Universities Australia criticises manufacturing taskforce

Innovation hubs, such as this one in Florida, are seen as one way to encourage industry and public sector partnerships. Commerce.gov

Peak body Universities Australia has criticised the Prime Minister’s Manufacturing Taskforce for understating the value of basic research as a contributor to innovation.

The Taskforce has recommended that research funding be tied to collaboration with the manufacturing industry, a recommendation that Universities Australia has opposed.

“While strategic, translational and applied research must be encouraged and has a vital role to play in modernising and diversifying the economy, Universities Australia is concerned that the report understates the value of basic research as a fundamental building block of the research system needed to support innovation and product development,” Universities Australia chief executive Belinda Robinson said.

Ms Robinson said Universities Australia was extremely disappointed that the research community was inadequately consulted, and that the community’s role was “represented as little more than as a service provider to the manufacturing industry”.

“There are many, many examples of industry and universities partnering successfully. Universities Australia supports the ambition of the Taskforce to expand this collaborative model but is wary of this coming at the expense of other research priorities,” Ms Robinson said.

But Taskforce member and UTS Business School dean, Roy Green, said there should be incentives for researchers to align research with the practical demands of industry.

“We’ve had an incentive to purely track our research in well-regarded journals but not to track ourselves on the degree of engagement of our research in the development of economy and industry,” Professor Green said.

“We’re very good at producing research, but what about the demand side - can industry actually make use of that research as well?

"If the research is available and the researchers are available there must be encouragement and facilities to enable that to occur and that’s what the innovation hubs are about,” Professor Green said.

The Taskforce has recommended the establishment of innovation hubs to boost collaboration between companies and the public research sector, and the government has already allocated $30 million as part of the 2012 budget for a manufacturing technology innovation centre.

Professor Green said that industry tracking would not diminish the importance of research measurement initiatives like Excellence in Research for Australia, but that it would encourage universities to position research in the areas of economics, science and technology much more closely to the practical demands of industry.