From ivory towers to the engines of a thriving industry


How to make our universities more like Stanford or Hebrew University where it’s not just about publishing more and more academic papers, but working closely with industry to create products innovators, new businesses and stimulate economic growth?

This is the challenge we have issued to our universities and today we are publishing the first steps in our policy to help us do this.

Silicon Valley wouldn’t exist without Stanford; Israel wouldn’t be the remarkable center of innovation without the Hebrew University.

We can be like them and it is in our economic interest to do so.

We are starting from a position of strength. We have great universities made up of many brilliant minds. We have pockets of incredible innovation and examples of new businesses being launched in university labs.

But these pockets of innovation tend to be isolated examples rather than the norm.

The norm in our universities is to publish academic articles. And then post more.

Over the past twenty years, the number of academic papers written and published has quadrupled from 23,000 in 2000 to over 100,000 in 2020. This has increased alongside annual spending on academic research which has also quadrupled to more of $ 12 billion. .

But on almost every measure of research commercialization our performance is poor and we have barely budged in that same 20 years.

In many ways, this is not surprising. Almost all of the incentives are geared towards more and more posts.

Of the top four global rankings, only one includes a metric on marketing, and even so, it’s weighted at just 2.5% of the overall score.

In addition, most research funding is also directed towards primary research, rather than translational research.

All of these incentives have created a ‘publish or perish’ culture in our universities and, as the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry points out, they are simply ‘not encouraged to consider commercial application’ of their research.

So how do you change this equation? How do we encourage our universities not only to produce world-class basic research, but to translate it to have a greater impact on Australian society and economy?

The first step is to redirect large amounts of public research funding around national economic priorities, and then to fund key challenges that are in the national interest.

Experience abroad shows that countries that are successful in commercializing research focus their efforts and set clear missions for what they want research to achieve.

We will go this route, directing more research funding around our six modern manufacturing priorities where we already have a comparative advantage as a nation – critical mineral resource and processing technology, food and beverage, medical products, recycling. and clean energy, defense and space.

The second step is to create a larger integrated system of collaboration between universities and businesses. Part of the business success is that people are in the same room to analyze problems together. But in Australia, some academics are business-skeptical, and vice versa.

The amount of movement between universities and business confirms this – it’s a third of the rate that occurs in the United States and half of the rate that occurs in the United Kingdom.

Finally, we must recognize that not all universities will move at the same pace as the others in the realization of this new program. Some universities have a thirst for a strong commitment to the commercialization of research, and we want to help them become leaders in the field and lead the way for others.

This is where the pioneer university policy that the Prime Minister announced yesterday comes in.

We’re investing $ 243 million in four new Trailblazers to create world-class marketing capacity in priority areas. Pioneers will need to secure industry co-funding, have a business-oriented board of directors, and industrial relations structures that reward academics who market, not just publish.

Additional policies will be announced shortly to advance this global agenda.

We have some of the brightest minds in the country at our universities. Let’s get more of them to focus on translating their research into cutting-edge products and companies so that in the years to come we can have our own Silicon Valleys focused on Australia’s core economic priorities.

About Perry Perrie

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