Commercialising Australian innovation and building a more resilient economy will require a major shift in our thinking – not new money – according to the Australian Advanced Manufacturing Council (AAMC) in its submission to the Federal Government’s review of research funding for higher education.
The AAMC has called for a redirection of research money to strengthen pre-competitive collaboration between companies and research organisations, specifically through the Government’s Industry Growth Centres program.
The AAMC recommends:
· Redirect a bigger portion of research funding (5 per cent) to the Federal Government’s Industry Growth Centres – as the most effective means of stepping up collaboration between industry and research;
· A national program of secondments from the research sector to industry;
· A change in funding metrics to better recognise meaningful research-industry collaboration;
· Simplified IP guidelines and templates, and making funding grants conditional on IP dissemination.
“In this year’s Federal Budget, the government made $9.7 billion available for science, research and innovation. The portion allocated directly to the Growth Centres ($225 million over four years) amounted to less than 0.6 per cent of that total,” the Council says in its submission released today.
“Increasing the rate of collaboration between industry and research is essential to maintaining Australia’s economic growth. These sentiments have been widely acknowledged by government, universities and industry alike, “ the AAMC says.
“These centres have the role of commercialising ideas and building enterprise ‘absorptive capacity’ through business improvement and transformation.”
The AAMC says: “No new money is needed but new performance metrics to reward industry-focused research, as well as a re-ordering of research priorities, is urgently required.”
The majority of Research Block Grant (RBG) funding for higher education research is currently allocated via a series of complex formulae, primarily relating to publications, the AAMC says.
Executive Director of the AAMC, Jennifer Conley, said today industry wanted to see better recognition for meaningful research sector-industry engagement in the RBG and other funding allocation formulae. The AAMC suggests a national program of industry secondments from the research sector, among other measures.
“We must reward mobility between industry and academia,” she said. “For example, the number of secondments of PhD candidates into industry and greater IP dissemination – activities that indicate meaningful exchange.”
Australia ranks 29th and 30th out of 30 OECD countries on the proportion of large businesses and small to medium enterprises (SMEs) collaborating with higher education and public research institutions on innovation.
She said: “Internationally, public private partnerships, like our new Growth Centres, have been successful in accelerating technologies and industry capabilities.
“Australian research and innovation impact needs to improve across the board, particularly with the SME sector,” she said. “And while higher education quite rightly says it should not be solely up to them to build collaboration, it is clear that current measures are not driving the right behaviors and outcomes.
“One important factor that is sometimes overlooked is the differing bargaining positions of SMEs and universities, particularly with those universities in the ‘Group of Eight’, in forming collaborative partnerships,” she said.
The submission says Intellectual Property issues can be obstacles, particularly for SMEs, if negotiations over ownership become protracted.
“Often SMEs are time and resource poor, with an inability to engage top tier law firms to act on their behalf in these negotiations. Negotiations and legal contractual issues over who bears what costs can often be unnecessarily protracted,” the submission says.
“It is noted that in the United States such negotiations are a very straightforward process using standard form 1-2 page legal contracts.”
The AAMC strongly supports moves towards harmonising and simplifying IP Guidelines for universities, as well as making grants conditional on the dissemination of IP.