Sections

Services

Information

UK United Kingdom

Research is useless, innovation is gold

Most agree that it’s worth knowing more about the world and everything in it. Research, in that sense, is intrinsically valuable. But for pragmatic governments, intrinsic scientific or scholarly worth…

It’s not what you know, it’s what you do with it. Gold image from www.shutterstock.com

Most agree that it’s worth knowing more about the world and everything in it. Research, in that sense, is intrinsically valuable.

But for pragmatic governments, intrinsic scientific or scholarly worth is useless, what they value is its contribution to society.

Some research fields, like health and medical research, have direct benefits. They can, as the Liberal Party states in its policy document on medical research, lift national productivity, improve quality of life and boost life expectancy.

But this can happen only when research is applied, for example, in stimulating innovation. Innovation is understood broadly as the implementation of a new or significantly improved product, process or method.

Innovation thus involves a complex interplay of several factors and the progress of individual countries is hard to evaluate (although the Australian Bureau of Statistics has several useful data collections).

While comparing countries is difficult, a very good attempt is made by the global innovation index, which was launched by the prominent French graduate business school INSEAD in 2007 and has been published annually since.

At the top of this index this year are countries such as Switzerland, Sweden, the UK and the US. Australia has been ranked consistently at about 19 out of 142 countries and economies over the last five years. In the latest results, Australia was behind Canada (11), New Zealand (17) and South Korea (18).

The index is strikingly stable. Countries are consistently in the top 10 or top 25, and while they move within those groups, they rarely move between them.

But if we delve into the data we can understand a bit more about Australia’s strengths and weaknesses in turning research into innovation. For example, we compare well in areas like human capital and research, infrastructure and market sophistication.

But our knowledge and technology ranking is much lower. This is partly due to Australia’s small manufacturing sector, modest number of domestic patents, and modest exports of high tech and creative goods.

To improve Australia’s innovation system, we often see calls to increase the amount of applied research and get universities closer to business. This is consistent with the conventional, although now increasingly superseded understanding of innovation as proceeding from scientific research to development and then to application in production.

But this linear “supply chain” model of innovation would not necessarily improve Australia’s innovation system, which is evolving and complex with multiple contributions and connections.

An idea that is increasingly popular with governments and policy makers is innovation hubs. These hubs are essentially knowledge-intensive business clusters that are centres of wealth creation and link the local economy to the global economy.

Many posit a positive correlation between the strength of these clusters and national prosperity. Hubs do this both by generating more new ideas and converting more of them into successful businesses.

But Australia is ranked 34 for its state of cluster development, well below its overall ranking.

The Australian Government has a recent and modest program to develop industry innovation precincts which are led by industry to help businesses and researchers collaborate and foster innovation.

Two precincts have been established so far. The food industry innovation precinct is based in Melbourne and will be networked nationally. The manufacturing precinct is based at Monash University’s Clayton campus and has a hub in Adelaide to focus nationally on manufacturing for the defence industry.

The program has limitations, but is a good start and has the potential to develop important sites of business development and innovation.

As the index notes, the development paths of innovation hubs vary by country, and by industry. But almost every successful innovation hub involves the participation of big enterprises as hub champions. Some champions are private enterprises, but others are state owned enterprises.

The authors of this index note that:

Nascent innovation hubs often fail to close the gap between [research and development] and commercialisation. There are a number of reasons for this failure, including the difficulties of attracting partners and investments in projects with high technical risk and long developmental time frames; the loss of grant funding as project scope expands beyond academic research; the lack of critical end market insight or access; and the lack of entrepreneurial culture within the research community.

But along with these, another crucial element is patience. Innovation of this kind needs public and private collaborations to be sustained for up to 15 years or more. And so, they require long term investments from government, academic and corporate anchors.

While Australian government support for programs can be fickle, some like the Cooperative Research Centresprogram have won longstanding support. A sustained commitment will be needed if Australia’s industry innovation system is to succeed.

Join the conversation

59 Comments sorted by

  1. Dale Bloom

    Analyst

    Australia already has innovation hubs located in most towns.

    They are called "industrial estates".

    However I don’t think staff from a university would often venture into an industrial estate.

    So if a company in an industrial estate wants something, they just get on the phone and talk to a salesman, and most of what a salesman sells is imported from another country.

    When universities in Australia now house the Germaine Greer archive, there is even less connection between industrial estates and a university, if there was any connection at all.

    report
    1. John Canning

      Professor at University of Sydney

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      University's are not and should not solely be industrial extensions for R&D research for companies - that is not to say that they do not use their expertise in those areas. They most certainly do and many science and engineering researchers have a background in start ups and industry contracts (I have been involved in many start-ups for example - I even worked in something akin to an industrial park as you put it). Having said that, Universities have other, grander motivations that are beyond simple…

      Read more
    2. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to John Canning

      If something is used in industry, it has to be reliable and cost effective.

      It also has to be safe, or someone can be injured or killed.

      So Australian universities are actually competing with salesmen, who are easy to contact, and they sell products developed elsewhere, and there is more likelihood that those products are reliable, cost effective and safe enough to use.

      I would not rely on anything written by Germaine Greer for anything at all.

      report
    3. John Canning

      Professor at University of Sydney

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      I respect your opinions or assertions but that's simply a gross misunderstanding of Universities and intellectual pursuits.
      Re Prof. Greer, it does not matter what you (or I) think or whether you (or I) would rely on anything written by Germaine Greer (or indeed by you or I) - her work stands on its own and has clearly an important contribution to the changes in our society as we see it today no matter whether one likes it or not. As for any intellectual contribution, most of her work has been open to fair criticism. Having said that, asking to be taken on face value by asserting such a bold statement without any clinical and careful analysis simply does not stand up and is an unnecessary distraction as well as quietly derogatory.
      It is also completely irrelevant to the article posted here.

      report
    4. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to John Canning

      My post was on the disconnect between universities, research and actual industry.

      As mentioned in another post, one of the largest industrial estates in QLD does not have any university research presence at all.

      Not one single office room amongst the many acres of buildings is being rented out by any university.

      But there will be rooms at universities for Germaine Greer’s archives.

      It does say something about the priorities of universities in this country.

      report
    5. John Canning

      Professor at University of Sydney

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      And yet at the Australian Technology Park there is considerable university presence so I think one has to be careful about blaming Universities in this way and resorting to simplistic arguments. Much of the problem, which also has been alluded to by various people is actually the bridging process both from government and from industry including investors of which there are very few, if any, who would back genuine fundamental University research.
      Regarding priorities, I think if you better understand…

      Read more
    6. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to John Canning

      The park I mentioned now has hundreds of business, from panel beating to programming PLCs to servicing giant dump trucks.

      There is a university campus, but it is 2 kilometres away, which means it is separate from the real action.

      The majority of innovation depends on feedback from the customer, and not government grants.

      If the customer wants something lighter, stronger or cheaper, then that provides the impetus to develop a new and improved model.

      So a company can releases a model, quickly gather feedback from its customers, and then quickly have another model in the prototype stage.

      Its all about customer feedback and speed to stay ahead of the pack, and if universities separate themselves from the action, they are not going to develop much innovation at all.

      report
    1. Colin Wight

      Professor of International Relations at University of Sydney

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      Lol! Sorry, I thought it had been written by a sub, but I don't see anywhere that you are suggesting that research is useless. Even the innovation requires the research first, so it's a condition of possibility for most innovation. Also, the drive towards 'impact' is distorting the sector.

      report
    2. Gavin Moodie
      Gavin Moodie is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Adjunct professor at RMIT University

      In reply to Colin Wight

      I agree. The proportion of Australia's research that is pure basic has fallen markedly over the last 15 years with corresponding increases in strategic basic and applied research. I'm not sure this is good. Australia at least needs to discuss its balance between pure basic research, strategic basic research, applied research and
      experimental development.

      report
    3. MItchell Lennard

      Researcher - Distributed Energy Systems

      In reply to Colin Wight

      Actually Colin I have a lot of sympathy for Gavin's position and I certainly don't think the drive toward 'impact' is 'distorting the sector.

      I am a design engineer with 30 years industrial experience, I am an "innovator' in the sense that Gavin uses the term. I am also now a 1st year PhD researcher at Gavin's university. I have spent hundreds of hours reading through academic , peer reviewed, published work and my conclusion is only 10% is actually worth anything at all. It is created to meet…

      Read more
    4. Colin Wight

      Professor of International Relations at University of Sydney

      In reply to MItchell Lennard

      Mitchell, Norman Taylor has pretty much summed it up for me. What scientific research is worth, can't be quantified just in terms of money (waste or otherwise), and if all research had to be conducted in terms of 'possible use' an awful lot of scientific discoveries wouldn't have been discovered, or even started. The potential 'impact' of much scientific work, can't be known in advance of the outcomes of the research, and in science a negative can counts as a valid result. And we can't know in advance…

      Read more
    5. Giles Pickford
      Giles Pickford is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Retired, Wollongong

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      What the whole system lacks is what my Dad used to call "the elephant of surprise". The process currently involves picking dead cert winners, which leaves out the roughies.

      I have an idea which will never be adopted by the panels of excessively careful experts. Pick out two of the unsuccessful applicants for ARC grants by lot and then fund them. Follow their progress carefully and see where they end up in 10 years. Look on it as an experiment and measure the results.

      There will be cries of "waste of public funds". But I maintain that it is an experiment in fund allocation where the outcome is an unknown. We should not be frightened of the unknown.

      report
    6. Bill Rayner

      Mechanical Engineer: Innovation, R&D, design at Rayner Design Pty Ltd

      In reply to Colin Wight

      I think the headline is wonderful! Not entirely true of course, but suitably thought provoking. Naturally, fundamental research is important, but a spark of spontaneous innovation is far more exciting to investors, and in Australia at least, that is important.

      My long career in R&D has been in the private sector and therefore driven by the need to make unique, useful and marketable products. The people I have worked with have had backgrounds from trade to senior academia and most become inspired…

      Read more
    7. MItchell Lennard

      Researcher - Distributed Energy Systems

      In reply to Colin Wight

      Sorry Colin but this shallow defence of 'the potential impact cannot be known in advance' is just not supported by history and is certainly not an acceptable defence to poorly targeted finite research resources.

      Its readily acceptable that most mathematics exists for decades or more before anyone may find a use for it, same with much physics and some basic biological work and I am not suggesting that this style of 'basic' work should not be funded.

      What I suspect is that much of the work…

      Read more
    8. Colin Wight

      Professor of International Relations at University of Sydney

      In reply to MItchell Lennard

      Thanks Mitchell, you say the 'shallow' defence is not supported by history, but then go on to provide examples from maths, physics and biology, so I'm slightly confused. I still think you are confusing science and technology and using a very limited example drawn from medical research. Not all science fits this model, nor should it be expected to. But if you want historical examples I can provide plenty of examples of when science produced outcomes the impact of which was not felt for decades, if…

      Read more
    9. Andy Cameron

      Care giver

      In reply to MItchell Lennard

      Mitchell, though I don't think too many would raise a fuss if the Australian government refused to refund any more string theory research.

      report
    10. Andy Cameron

      Care giver

      In reply to Giles Pickford

      Australia's research agenda is currently run by two of the least innovative factions in Australian life - university administrators and government bureaucrats. The whole debacle is like being stuck in a Kafka novel.

      report
    11. Gavin Moodie
      Gavin Moodie is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Adjunct professor at RMIT University

      In reply to Giles Pickford

      Indeed. Several years ago Labor - I think under Hawke or Keating - established a venture capital fund to develop promising ideas. Of the 10 or so ideas funded some 3 turned out successfully and 4 or 5 progressed but needed more or different work to succeed. This was an exceptionally high success rate, but the Coalition pursued Labor for years over what it claimed was 'waste' and so the program was never continued.

      report
    12. MItchell Lennard

      Researcher - Distributed Energy Systems

      In reply to Colin Wight

      Hi Colin,

      Im not confusing science and technology because they are not separate things but rather a continuum. The idea that there is somehow some pure thing called science , that should be pursued for its own sake and then there is technology that is somehow tied to innovation and commercialisation is an erroneous construct. I choose some maths and some physics as examples as historically there is in these areas very large time differences between the initial work and the later use of the work…

      Read more
    13. MItchell Lennard

      Researcher - Distributed Energy Systems

      In reply to Andy Cameron

      Oh I don't know Andy,

      String theory may still surprise us in a couple of hundred years.

      report
    14. John Canning

      Professor at University of Sydney

      In reply to MItchell Lennard

      It is the eureka moments that actually change things substantially and provide a genuine competitive edge over time. The incremental stuff is relatively low value, done everywhere, and that is why targeted research has rarely worked as well as being suggested. In fact, the assumption of targeted research is that you know something about what you want to do and invariably its based on preceding eureka moments of others (mostly from overseas). As such it is a follower’s game for most “incrementers…

      Read more
    15. John Canning

      Professor at University of Sydney

      In reply to John Canning

      And I should mention creative people are usually naturally driven and curious people - money is often the last thing on their mind so there is an added challenge of providing an effective mechanism for commercializing their creativity whilst not stifling their interest through lack of incentives. This is where some of the CRC programs that are well managed have been quite good it seems.
      But very targeted programs invariably raise another critical issue of long term sustainability – start-ups can take around 15 to 30 years to develop from basic research a time frame that is simply unrecognized in most government programs.

      report
    16. Andy Cameron

      Care giver

      In reply to MItchell Lennard

      "The world is not made up of Eureka moments, its made up of grinding out small delta's year upon year. Most work in university ( whether you call it research or development or whatever) is a part of this steady little step by little step advance."
      After reading Thomas Kuhn's "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" in second year undergrad, I immediately abandoned long held dreams of a life as a research scientist. After all, Kuhn was at the very pinnacle of research scientist's career - Professor of Physics at Harvard. Yet the way his book described it, his life was little more than licking stamps in badly lit, subterranean rooms, surrounded by other stamp lickers. Though I was grateful for the knowledge, and still am, I am glad other people created it, not me.

      report
    17. Andy Cameron

      Care giver

      In reply to John Canning

      John having spent more time/energy pn the capital/commercialisation side, but having started off on the Eureka-side, as some of my closest loved-one's remain, I have found that even those scientists, who talk so much about their dreaming of 'striking it rich', often think they are just saying that, because similar phrases haven't been popularised to describe the thrill of victory, glamour, and fame when a big scientific breakthrough is made. They might say they are driven to build a perpetual motion device because they'll be "rich, live in a mansion in the Carribean, buy a yacht, and smoke cigars". But really, all they want to do is lap up the glory of proving their peers/colleagues/world's smarted minds wrong, and being a household name as a result.

      report
    18. John Canning

      Professor at University of Sydney

      In reply to Andy Cameron

      Kuhn got that aspect wrong essentially. Anyone who has worked in research knows that you can have all the knowledge in the world and make all the tiny steps you want and still not make any significant advance other than verifying something you knew already. On the other hand, very few people have the novel breakthroughs that move things forward, no matter how obvious they may appear post analysis. You do not need to be creative to be incremental.
      Often, people mistake post analysis and explanation…

      Read more
    19. John Canning

      Professor at University of Sydney

      In reply to Andy Cameron

      I would not disagree with some of your statements - genuine scientists are not usually driven about striking it rich, which is in fact part of the problem with the attempt to link industry and science and to work out incentives that don't lose the spirit of "eureka". Of course everyone can be corrupted so to speak.
      "yachts and smoke cigars" - were you watching the special on Mcafee last night?

      report
    20. John Canning

      Professor at University of Sydney

      In reply to John Canning

      A good example Andy is Darwin - he was an incremental scientist par excellence and despite 20 yrs of work building tremendous amounts of data never cracked natural selection. It was an untrained adventurer who worked it out and sent him a letter about it - Wallace. Realizing that the eureka moment had been missed, Darwin then under encouragement by his Royal Society buddies integrated it into his own story to finally complete it. Clearly, Darwin's incremental work, along with is weight in the Royal Society, was essential to better support the Wallace theory and make it palatable to the community but it was Wallace who was inspired and had a eureka moment.

      report
    21. Andy Cameron

      Care giver

      In reply to John Canning

      John, I've seen a few (not too many obviously) go from lab to striking it rich. What I have observed is that the one's who really go on to make it very, very rich, were those who had not much of an idea of wealth before, not even thinking much beyond a decent middle class secure life, materially, so long as they were still living their science. But when the world of big money and commerce is revealed to them, they become entranced just like they did with their research science, and "making money" or "building my company" becomes just as earnest and important for mankind, as was his lab work. I don't know of any who have gone from labs to riches who took up cigar smoking and sun-bathing in middle-age, when they could turn their $15 million into $150 million. ;)

      report
    22. John Canning

      Professor at University of Sydney

      In reply to Andy Cameron

      Well I have observed similar - but then again McAfee did buy a yacht and still smokes cigars... he even built a drug lab in Belize to make new anitbiotics from the plants outside so he did keep his curiosity alive...

      And now he is videotaping his cigar smoking and yacht sailing to make even more money...whatever his motives the guy has found a way to appear nuts, enjoy life and make money from that process! Not the best role model but he is certainly innovative... (innovation is not always a good thing perhaps).

      report
    23. Andy Cameron

      Care giver

      In reply to John Canning

      Well, Kuhn was both a bad and a great influence. He kindled a passion for the history of ancient and medieval science, which led to an extra degree in Arts. He also made me realise other less-than-Eureka realities, such as waiting up to two years for a paper to be published. I was far, far too impatient for that. I had also noticed the incredible politics. I was advised to try and look beyond that, by focusing on the careers of the scholars I admired. Strangely, the most successful ones seemed very…

      Read more
    24. John Canning

      Professor at University of Sydney

      In reply to Andy Cameron

      Yes politics and associated challenges is a real problem and a major disincentive for our best people in all areas of scholarship and endeavor - I don't think anyone can say otherwise and keep a straight face. And its not restricted to academia or industry.
      It is the archetype mammoth in the room because it is so tied to ethics, leadership and power and therefore so difficult to deal with - within reason you can have any system and any scheme: whether they work well or not is invariably determined by the personal quality of people involved.
      You would be right in asserting that if one could actually deal with it (even incrementally) one would probably get more out of that than any new government policy based on funding.

      report
  2. Norman taylor

    worrier

    I worry when research is limited by the immediate commercial outcome. This is when the industry and the politicians are deciding which research should go ahead.
    It seems to be that they are focussed on development of something that they know about rather than research.

    report
  3. Trevor Kerr

    ISTP

    Off top of head, the concept of "innovation hub" may not apply to Australia very well, at all. We are a small population scattered in a very few cities over a vast land mass that's well away from the industrious North. Wouldn't innovation hubs work best where there's enough population and industry to encourage useful competition? If the virtue & energy of innovation are sufficient to guarantee success of a collaboration, with maybe a little government encouragement, then it's hard to see how any…

    Read more
    1. Gavin Moodie
      Gavin Moodie is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Adjunct professor at RMIT University

      In reply to Trevor Kerr

      That's a fair point Trevor. Of course much depends on how one defines cluster. Porter and Sölvell (2002) describe Australia's wine cluster (!!), which has some national characteristics and institutions, tho obviously based in several distant regions.

      Porter (2002: slide 41) mentions several institutions supporting the Australian wine cluster funded or enabled by government: Roseworthy Agricultural College's oenology program (1930), Australian Wine Research Institute (1955), Charles Sturt University's…

      Read more
    2. Trevor Kerr

      ISTP

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      Thanks, Gavin, that's a great reference. But, I've not heard of Michael Porter, so I'll go back to Roger Pielke's 'The Honest Broker'. :)

      report
    3. Trevor Kerr

      ISTP

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      Ah, yes, one more thing, on successful Australian industries. I assume the wine research hub gets financial support from governments. So, why do governments still give money to an industry that's doing well enough to be self-supporting? (Horse-racing may be another example.) Is it part & parcel of the model? Or, is it just that Ministers like to be associated with winners?

      report
    4. Gavin Moodie
      Gavin Moodie is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Adjunct professor at RMIT University

      In reply to Trevor Kerr

      Some of the institutions supporting the wine industry such as tertiary education are subsidised by government as part of its general provision of tertiary education. Others such as Cooperative Research Centre for Viticulture had governments matching industry funding. Yet others such as the Grape and Wine R&D Corporation are funded mostly by the industry but it rely on government legislation to collect industry levies. These institutions thus depend on a combination of industry initiative and government encouragement or support.

      report
    5. Andy Cameron

      Care giver

      In reply to Trevor Kerr

      Trevor, never heard of His Harvard Business School Holiness, Michael Porter. Tsk! Tsk! Though while he was a god at teaching crash courses in Microeconomics, Industrial Organisation, and Corporate Strategy to Engineers and English majors, his later stuff on national competitiveness was much more dodgy, flirting too much with what was trendy for a while - government-led strategic industry policy (fancy talk for 'pickin' winners).

      report
  4. John Barker
    John Barker is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Adjunct Professor at Murdoch University

    Thanks for the informative article Gavin. The depressing aspect of all this is how little progress has been made in thinking about the issue of "innovation" in Australia over the past 30 years.

    Back in the early 80s the buzz was all about technology parks. ( I was involved in setting one up in Perth) . The logic was to create "a critical mass and an international visibility" for "high tech" ie research- intensive- companies, in proximity to a university.

    While most of the parks have successful…

    Read more
    1. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to John Barker

      No critical mass?

      Here is a photo of a small part of an industrial estate that is becoming the largest in QLD.

      http://www.realcommercial.com.au/property-land+development-qld-paget-500917699

      An average building is about the size of a large aircraft hanger, and a 4 lane road has been built to access the estate.

      The technology being used in that estate is some of the latest technology available.

      But not one university in this country has so much as a single office in that estate.

      Why?

      Too elitist, and universities expect the public to come to them (and give them lots of money).

      The estate would also be considered “too male”.

      report
    2. Gavin Moodie
      Gavin Moodie is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Adjunct professor at RMIT University

      In reply to John Barker

      Indeed. There are some good people around. West seems to have developed an active centre at the University of Tasmania and perhaps others could seek affiliation as honorary fellows.

      Surely the 'silicon somewhere' (Florida, 2002) bubble has just about burst! O’Mara (2005) demonstrated convincingly the special circumstances that gave rise to Silicon Valley, and the different special circumstances the led to Route 128, the Research Triangle, etc. Apart from anything else, those developments have a scale that dwarfs anything Australia could develop.

      Florida, Richard (2002) The rise of the creative class: and how it’s transforming work, leisure, community and everyday life, Basic Books, New York.

      O’Mara, Margaret Pugh (2005) Cities of knowledge: Cold War science and the search for the next Silicon Valley, Princeton University Press, New Jersey.

      report
  5. Tim Pitman
    Tim Pitman is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Senior Research Fellow, National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education at Curtin University

    Hi Gavin

    I'd be interested to know if you have any information regarding the levels of government investment in other countries' innovation precincts/hubs. I believe that in the past in Australia these have been underfunded/supported and complicated by a bit of the blame game between Fed and State in terms of how they are supported. But happy to stand corrected if the facts show otherwise.

    report
    1. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Tim Pitman

      By State and Federal funding you mean taxpayer funding.

      So why is it necessary to have taxpayer funding?

      Probably just as much capital funding was poured into this country in recent years as was poured into Silicon Valley, but it was private funding that went towards mining.

      For the most part, the universities and research institutions failed to do anything with that massive injection of funding.

      report
    2. Colin Wight

      Professor of International Relations at University of Sydney

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Australian Universities contribute around $22bill annually to the economy. International education contributes around $15bill annually to the economy and is Australia's largest service export; indeed the largest export earner after resources. Between 2008-2011 universities applied for, or had issued almost 15,000 patents, the most of any public organisation. Hardly failing to do anything?

      Something else to consider; Australia publicly invests only 0.7% of GDP in tertiary education, that is 25th out of 29 advanced economies. The OECD average is 1.1%....All this yet Australian HE is still ranked 8th highest in the world. Again, the issue depends on what you are using as your measures. But on any measure the Australian economy needs the universities.

      report
    3. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Colin Wight

      Export earning from the resources sector were nearly 10 times more than the education sector.

      The supposed export earnings from the education sector are normally based on what foreign students spend when in the country, but if they spend most of their money on imports (such as imported computers or books), then that is somehow assumed to be an export.

      The public also has to pay for the extra infrastructure costs of having those students in the country, and overall, foreign students may be an economic loss to the country.

      If it is expected that the public pays for something as big as the Paget industrial estate in QLD, then it is not going to happen.

      http://media2.apnonline.com.au/img/media/images/2011/11/09/MDM_10-11-2011_FRONT_PAGE_01_MKY091111paget_fct1025x631x40_t460.jpg

      The universities and research institutions have to go to industry, instead of relying on taxpayer funding to build “innovation hubs”

      report
    4. Tim Pitman
      Tim Pitman is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Senior Research Fellow, National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education at Curtin University

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Research hubs are supposed to leverage funding. That is, a combination of $X from a university + $X from an industry partner + $X = potentially something far greater than the sum of all three i.e. research for unis, profits, patents and spin-offs for the industry and increased national productivity for the taxpayer. If it works, all win and the tax-payer support is justified. If it fails, that's another matter.

      As other posters have noted, the biggest potential loser in research impact policy is blue-sky research. If governments and industry don't want to take on the associated risk, and we have a relatively nascent philanthropic culture in Australia, one wonders. And for those who scoff at blue-sky research: 15 years ago the government-funded CSIRO was mucking about with complex maths formulas and radio waves for their astronomical research program. They ended up inventing and patenting wireless LAN technology, now in about 3 billion smartphones across the world.

      report
    5. John Canning

      Professor at University of Sydney

      In reply to Tim Pitman

      Indeed - if one is to make any criticism, it is the fact that there really was little in the way of mechanisms to take that CSIRO innovation and create an Australian based industry. Taking the patent out meant that CSIRO did recognize the value and therefore justified its existence. But something went amiss in that essential phase of building a local industry and the next best thing was to sell it.
      This is nothing new - Australian institutions, despite the criticism from some quarters, have generally…

      Read more
    6. Gavin Moodie
      Gavin Moodie is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Adjunct professor at RMIT University

      In reply to Tim Pitman

      Hi Tim

      Unfortunately I don't know how much governments invest in their innovation hubs, tho surely this must be reported somewhere. The relevant chapter in the Global Innovation Index Report (Jaruzelski and colleagues, 2013) implies that US innovation hubs emerge spontaneously around research universities, but that overlooks the numerous great research universities with no innovation precinct despite their best efforts, such as University of Pennsylvania’s ‘University City’ and Georgia Tech’s…

      Read more
    7. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Tim Pitman

      I would assume that if the university research fails then the taxpayer still has to pay for it.

      There has been talk about “innovation hubs” for many years, but few have eventuated, and manufacturing in Australia continues its slow decline.

      Meanwhile there are industrial estates in most towns, and some industrial estates are now the size of small towns.

      Instead of an “innovation hub” I would be suggesting researchers simply hire or buy a shed in a pre-existing industrial estate for their research.

      That saves the taxpayer the cost of doubling up on infrastructure, it puts the researcher closer to the worker and the public, and the researcher may actually drum up some more business.

      report
  6. John Canning

    Professor at University of Sydney

    If you only innovate for products, then you don't need to be in a University. The research foundations for new technologies of the future may very well stem from (often simple in retrospect) innovations in the lab but it is the subsequent innovations both in the lab and elsewhere that create the bulk of technology industries. Innovations in packaging research is one clear example of a more immediate enabler that is perhaps not the primary domain of a university.
    I think people should stop confusing…

    Read more
  7. david gray

    agricultural scientist & economist at Agriculture

    As someone who gave the development of certain innovations in the food industry a “red-hot crack”, the quote in your article from the authors of the international index resonated with me. In my words, the gap between the research outcomes arises from:
    (i) The absence of a sophisticated investment (venture capital) culture, particularly the relative absence of analysts in that part of the finance sector who have technical expertise in anything other than mining/petroleum style ventures;
    (ii) The…

    Read more
  8. Bill Skinner

    Research Professor at University of South Australia

    There should be room for blue sky research (that which does not immediately convert to application, or is the pursuit of common good knowledge) and research that is targeted at an impact outcome.

    The unfortunate thing is that the effective public purse for research funding is shrinking. Before anyone argues the numbers, by "effective" I mean $ available per active researcher is not keeping up with the number of grant applicants or the real costs of doing research. This means difficult decisions…

    Read more
  9. Garry Baker

    researcher

    Applied research is all very well, but the truly valuable stuff may only be understood by a mere handful of people in the world - Ala, Einstein when alerted his colleagues to the way Nuclear might go.

    Politicians should never be the arbiters of the spend on cutting edge research, insofar as history shows them to be a pretty dumb lot - Especially Australian politicians.

    " One day sir, you may tax it."

    Faraday's reply to William Gladstone, then British Chancellor of the Exchequer (minister of finance), when asked of the practical value of electricity (1850)

    report
  10. James Brown

    Electrical Engineer

    Another factor which makes innovation in Australia difficult is the few multi-national companies based here who can take local R&D and innovation apply it and sell products world wide. Companies like Siemens have sales outlets worldwide so that the costs of engineering products for mass production can be absorbed and funded based on substantial sales.

    However Siemens also buys companies to establish itself in new areas, for example medical imaging. In Australia Varian's purchase of the company exploiting CSIRO's work in spectrophotometry is a comparable local transaction.

    Transferring R&D into major Australian companies which operate internationally should be a target.

    report
    1. Gavin Moodie
      Gavin Moodie is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Adjunct professor at RMIT University

      In reply to Colin Wight

      Thanx Colin

      That is indeed a most useful account of Andrew Witty's (2013) report on how 'universities can drive growth in their areas and for the benefit of the wider UK and to disseminate knowledge and best practice', as its opening term of reference specifies.

      Witty, Andrew (2013) Encouraging a British invention revolution: Sir Andrew Witty’s review of universities and growth. Final report and recommendations, retrieved 16 October 2013 from

      https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/universities-and-growth-the-witty-review-call-for-evidence

      report