Australia’s research and development capability is principally distributed across the business, higher education and government sectors, with an innovation pipeline from pure basic research through to commercialisation and deployment. Despite its fundamental importance to Australia’s economic and social wellbeing, our level of investment in R&D lags international peers. The higher education sector remains the backbone of Australia’s research effort, exercising stewardship over our research capability, but a greater R&D effort across the whole economy is necessary to ensure prosperity.
Australian university research is highly regarded around the world, demonstrating the commitment of Australia’s universities and researchers to excellence and innovation. Their work changes lives for the better – pioneering Australian discoveries can be seen directly in products like the cervical cancer vaccine and the bionic ear, or indirectly as contributions to advances across many fields. Although discoveries in the sciences and technical fields often gain the most attention, it is important to understand that these discoveries are complemented by advances in the humanities, arts and social sciences, which help us understand (and capitalise on) the complexity of human society.
Australia’s research funding system is complex, with many interconnected actors and policies. The Commonwealth financially supports approximately one-third of Australia’s $31 billion science, research and innovation effort, through more than 160 separate programs. There have been a multitude of reviews and inquiries over the past two decades into Australian research and innovation funding, leading to numerous changes. Currently, the Australian research funding system is undergoing significant change, with the outcomes of five separate reviews being implemented. Very careful consideration should be given to whether further changes at this time would be in the interests of, or breed confidence in, Australia’s overall research and innovation system.
Rather than focussing on specific elements of the current system, Universities Australia outlines a set of principles that should be at the heart of research funding mechanisms. These relate to:
- the importance of long-term planning and patient investment;
- the centrality of investigator-driven research to future innovation;
- the need for funding mechanisms to promote excellence and integrity;
- the role of flexible funding mechanisms in the stewardship of research capability;
- funding mechanisms and processes that support transparency, accountability and efficiency, and
- embracing the increasingly global nature of the research enterprise.
Universities Australia strongly believes that Australia is best served by a confident, outward-looking research community that can utilise its global expertise for the benefit of Australian society. Our research capabilities are national assets, which universities safeguard and nurture on behalf of the nation. By embracing these principles, the value of these assets is protected and increased for current and future generations.