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'Game-changing' investment needed to drive economic transformation

Universities call for a 'game-changing' national investment strategy in wealth-generating research and innovation - arguing it is vital to the economic transformation that both sides of politics say Australia must make.

As we enter an era of change on a scale not seen since the industrial revolution, there is an urgent need to invest now in research, skills and ingenuity to transform our industries - and create and fill the jobs of the future.

Yet Australia is the only OECD country without a national research and innovation plan.

The call for a bold new research and innovation investment is the centrepiece of Keep It Clever - the university sector's pre-election policy blueprint, released today.

The statement notes the ambitious targets set by our competitors - including China (on a path to become the world's greatest investor in research within the decade), South Korea (which plans to invest five per cent of GDP in R&D by 2020) and the UK (which is investing A$3 billion in industry-university collaboration).

With 40 per cent of existing jobs tipped to disappear within two decades, university education and research - and stronger collaboration between industry and university researchers - will be vital to generate new jobs, new industries and new sources of income for Australia.

Keep it Clever also includes early data from compelling new Deloitte research that confirms how crucial the university sector is to Australia's prosperity. It finds:

  • University education added an estimated $140 billion to our economy in 2014. Australia's GDP is around 8.5 per cent higher due to the impact of university education on productivity.
  • The value of the stock of knowledge generated by university research was estimated at $160 billion in 2014. This is equivalent to almost 10 per cent of our GDP and exceeds the entire value of Australia's mining industry.
  • 3.8 million new skilled graduates will be needed for the knowledge economy over the next decade.

Keep it Clever notes Australia has dropped from sixth place to second last (24th out of 25) of the advanced economies for the share of GDP we invest in tertiary education. In 1995, our public investment was 1.2 per cent of GDP; in 2011, it was 0.74 per cent. This is well below the OECD average of 1.13 per cent.

Launching the statement, Universities Australia Chair Professor Barney Glover said with our country embarking on a dramatic transition, universities will be the engine of Australia's innovation, future growth and prosperity.

"Australia is in the early stages of a period of seismic change; change at a pace and magnitude not seen since the industrial revolution," Professor Glover said.

"To remain competitive and indeed grow our competitive advantage, we must invest properly in research, innovation, skills and critically in research infrastructure.";

"We face a stark choice. We either make this investment or we fall behind those that do," Professor Glover said.

Today we also launch the #fundourfuture advertising campaign, which makes the case for the game-changing public investment needed for Australia to prosper and invites the public to get involved. (

The full policy statement is available at

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