As the research sector presses the government on its commitment to lift total research and development expenditure, businesses are being asked to come to the table with their own investments and greater support for commercialising breakthroughs.
Science minister Ed Husic this week called on businesses to invest more in their own research and development, while the chair of a landmark review of higher education wants industry to help pull through the work of universities.
Since matching the OECD average in 2008 for total R&D expenditure as a share of GDP, Australia has fallen to 1.8 per cent in 2020. It is well below the current OECD average of 2.7 per cent and much farther back from global leaders.
Science, research and university groups this month called on the Albanese government to show how it will deliver on its election commitment to get investment to “closer to three per cent of GDP”.
On Thursday while launching consultations on new national science priorities, Mr Husic said he wants a more “structured” approach to government investment and there needs to be a “hard look” at total R&D funding.
“We do need to have a look at business contributions in R&D [expenditure],” Mr Husic said.
“There are some firms that are doing some great things. There are others that will regularly say they don’t have the money for R&D. Yet I see a lot of money going into share buybacks and money that could be made available towards advancing the causes of those business through research and development and applying that more widely.
“So I do think, again, it’s part of that conversation and part of the thinking, having some structure around what we’re doing that we get to that point.”
A review of the higher education sector being led by Professor Mary O’Kane is currently examining research funding and commercialisation among a wide-range of issues.
In an update on the review given this week, Professor O’Kane said Australia’s struggle with commercialising research appeared to be more about industry “pull through”.
“Why doesn’t industry just look at the capacity that’s in Australian universities and the expertise at an Australian university research? And I think the question does come much more through problem solving, through industry getting better at solving problems.”
Businesses and to some extent governments are not as good as universities at spelling out problems, Professor O’Kane say. But helping those stakeholder to pose better questions to universities would lead to better outcomes.
“I think that will lead to commercialisation as people say ‘why don’t we do things together?’… So I think there’s a bright future. But then lots of us have been saying that for a long time. But can we try and crack at this time?”
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Ever heard of BERD and GERD? Maybe, because R&D isn’t one thing. Business Expenditure on R&D (BERD) is private money from private organisations. It’s an expense that gets a tax break. Gross Expenditure on R&D (GERD) is all the R&D that happens. If you subtract BERD from GERD you’ll calculate government, private non-profit and higher education R&D. BERD is always higher than everything else combined. When Ed Husic wants businesses to “invest” in R&D he misspeaks an expenditure as an investment. No surprises there, because Ed is a journalist and not an accountant (or an economist or an IT guy). When the chair of a review of higher education wants “industry” to help pull through (pay for) the work of universities the request is for BERD to push up GERD. University R&D should be properly funded from the tax base, no? Yes. Ed wants a more “structured” approach to government investment and there needs to be a “hard look” at total R&D funding? Ed is great at sentences with “more” and “needs” in them, when he’s the guy making the big decisions. Hey Ed, get in the game. Get your contributions up. You want a more “structured” approach to government investment ? Over to you Ed. Your job. Tomorrow is Monday. You can start straight away.