Innovation in Australia suffers from a “lack of direction” and “haphazard” approach, a new report says.
The study by ACOLA centres on the “missing opportunities” in commercialising local research, and a lack of collaboration between the public sector and private businesses.
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It says the government needs to offer more support and incentives for this collaboration or risk Australia falling further behind the world eaders.
Launched by Australia’s chief scientist Professor Ian Chubb in Canberra on Friday morning, the report compares the innovation initiatives and programs of 14 other countries which are encouraging industry-driven research and commercialisation.
It finds that Australia is “lagging” behind these world-leaders and missing out on a whole range of opportunities due to inefficient collaboration between the public sector research and private businesses.
Among its findings is a “low” level of collaboration between public sector researches and business, researchers not actively seeking to commercialise, a lack of demand from business and a lack of “effective intermediaries” for this process.
Call to action
There needs to be decisive action in this area, Chubb says, and the report should serve as a catalyst for this leading in to the government’s much-anticipated innovation statement next month.
“Fiddling at the margins of policy will not secure the economic transformation we need to keep pace, let alone compete in an ambitious world,” Chubb says,
“We should not idly wait in the expectation that something will come along to deliver the outcomes that other countries have achieved through national innovation strategies.
“They have clearly identified where, when and how governments need to intervene to realise aspiration.”
Adopting best practices from around the world
The report includes 15 key recommendations to bring Australia on par with its international rivals, led by a need for stable, bipartisan policies, changes to R&D tax incentives and more support to enable startups to spin out of university research.
Universities Australia chief executive Belinda Robinson says direct government action is needed to bridge this gap.
“Australia’s direct government investment in research and development is near the bottom of the pack,” Robinson says.
“This is a wake-up call about the need for smarter national investment in wealth-generating research.
“To successfully compete with our smartest competitors on innovation-driven prosperity, we need a long-term, systematic approach.”
The report focuses on the approaches of 14 countries in terms of lifting research translation and business-researcher collaboration.
“The effective translation of public sector research lies at the core of Australia’s future competitiveness and prosperity,” the report says.
“Australia is undergoing a necessary economic transformation, transitioning from high dependence on natural resources to a knowledge-based economy. In order to secure Australia’s future, this transformation needs to be driven by innovation.”
Following on from a report earlier this month, the study points out that although Australian universities rank highly in terms of research quality, not one university features in the top 100 innovative universities worldwide.
The need for stable policies
To combat this lack of collaboration and commercialisation, the report emphasises the need for a “stable suite” and best-practice measures.
“For Australia’s research agenda to be fully effective, policies and programs which encourage collaboration have to be part of a stable innovation agenda,” it says.
“To be fully effective, policies and programs to encourage increased research translation need to be part of a stable national innovation strategy administered by an independent agency.
“Initiatives to enhance research translation need to be multifaceted, incentivise multiple actors and work on multiple levels.”
Business Council of Australia president Catherine Livingstone says these policies have to be sustained beyond the election cycle.
“To be effective our efforts to mobilise the innovation system, including policy frameworks, need to be applied consistently, transcending electoral cycles,” Livingstone says.
“The research highlights the need for a platform to cultivate and align the considerable resources we have in Australia to compete globally and establish a systematic approach to driving innovation throughout our economy.
“Every policy level we have must align our efforts to the goal of a globally competitive innovation system.”
To achieve this, the report calls for a “national innovation agency” to manage the strategy, similar to Sweden’s VINNOVA and Innovate UK.
The ACOLA report identifies numerous barriers preventing startups from spinning out of public sector research.
“Startup and spin-out companies from public sector institutions represent a small portion of research translation,” it says.
“However, research shows that they are an important source of new business opportunities and jobs.”
It also says Australia is “overly reliant” on indirect means for supporting businesses such as the R&D tax incentive, the report says.
“Shifting the balance of government support for business innovation to greater use of direct measures such as grants, loans and procurement contracts would allow a more focused and targeted approach to support for research collaboration and translation,” the report says.
The report recommends a number of international measures to improve this situation, including loans and grants for high-growth potential companies like the Zero Interest Rate Program in Brazil and Korea’s Industrial Technology Development Loan Fund.