Shortlist unveiled for $242m commercial research program


James Riley
Editorial Director

Acting Education Minister Stuart Robert has named a shortlist of proposals from eight universities competing to become commercial research hubs under the federal government’s $242.7 million Trailblazer Universities program.

Under the program announced just two months ago, four universities will receive up to $50 million each to establish industry-targeted, commercial research hubs that aim to foster increased collaboration with the business community.

The four successful universities will also get access to $8 million in specialist support from the CSIRO.

The government said it received 21 research commercialisation proposals across its six national manufacturing priority areas, including food and beverage, recycling and clean energy, space, defence, medical products, and resources and critical technology.

Commercial opportunity: Melbourne University is on the shortlist

The Trailblazer Universities program is the first step in a Morrison government reform agenda aimed squarely at encouraging more research that has a commercial imperative, that will create new technologies, products and businesses – ultimately creating jobs and contributing to the economic recovery.

“The high quality of the 21 proposals we received demonstrates the strong appetite for universities and business to work more closely together on projects of national importance,” Minister Robert said.

“The four proposals that ultimately succeed in receiving funding will lead Australia’s efforts in research commercialisation and support our critical national manufacturing priorities,” he said.

“They will also help demonstrate what it takes to build successful and enduring partnerships between university and private sector researchers that prioritise a focus on the national interest.”

The shortlisted applicants are:

  • University of Queensland, Food and beverage – Accelerating growth in Australia’s Food and Beverage manufacturing
  • Charles Sturt University, Food and beverage – Reshaping Australian Manufacturing: Food and Beverage Commercialisation Hub
  • Deakin University, Recycling and clean energy – Recycling and Renewable Energy Commercialisation Hub (REACH)
  • University of New South Wales, Recycling and clean energy – Australian Trailblazer for Recycling and Clean Energy (ATRaCE)
  • University of Adelaide, Defence – Defence Trailblazer for Concept to Sovereign Capability (CSC)
  • University of Melbourne, Medical products – Medical Products Trailblazer
  • University of Southern Queensland, Space – Innovative Launch, Automation, Novel Materials, Communications and Hypersonics Hub (The iLAuNCH Hub)
  • Curtin University, Resources Technology and critical minerals – Resources Technology Trailblazer

The shortlisted universities are now invited to put forward a detailed business case to further support their proposal, with outcomes of the selection process to be announced in late March.

The selection panel that named the shortlist panel included university, industry, science, and research leaders:

  • Department of Education, Skills and Employment (DESE) deputy secretary Tony Cook (Chair)
  • Former University of Wollongong vice-chancellor emeritus Professor Paul Wellings
  • Industry Innovation and Science Australia chair Andrew Stevens
  • CSIRO chief operating officer Judi Zielke
  • Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources first assistant secretary Janean Richards
  • DESE first assistant secretary Dom English

The Trailblazer Universities program has not been without its critics. The union representing university researchers lashed the proposal, saying the new commercialisation program would create “a different class of researchers”.

Regardless, in launching the program last November, the Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that extracting greater commercial and economic value from Australia’s research prowess was a government priority.

“We need our universities to play a bigger role in our economy, working hand in glove with Australian businesses to develop the next generation of great Australian products and companies,” Mr Morrison said at the time.

“They are a giant economic asset for this country, which generations of Australians have invested billions in, and I want to see that put to work to realise this next stage of our economic recovery,” he said.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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