IT’S YOUR CHOICE! Thinking strategically about science The level of collaboration between industry and academia in Australia has picked up a little. According to Chief Scientist Professor Ian Chubb, who took part in a science panel on the ABC’s Q&A in mid-September, it sits at about 8% - about 4% of our large research-active businesses, and 4% of our small to mediums, collaborate with universities. That’s just behind Mexico, where cooperation between universities and businesses is about 10%. In the UK, it’s about 40%. The Chief Scientist has been in the media quite a bit lately. And it’s not by accident. Chubb has made it his mission in the aftermath of the federal Budget to put science on the agenda. One goal he has is to gather evidence to give to Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane to take to cabinet and
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impress upon the government the importance of supporting science and building capacity and capability for the future of the country. The fact that Australia has a similar profile of researchers to Britain - about 60% of our researchers work in universities, about 10% work in publicly funded research agencies and the remainder are based in business - yet there is a much lower level of cooperation between universities and industry, is one piece of evidence Chubb is using to push for a national science strategy. Britain has had a national strategy in place to encourage collaboration in research. They’ve put incentives in place and have taken a long-term view with funding. The national science strategy Chubb has put to the government outlines recommendations for developing
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a coordinated long-term plan to match what higher education delivers with what industry demands. Participation in science and mathematics, particularly at senior levels, has fallen. It should be heading the other way. Chubb is calling for an increase in science, technology, engineering and maths skills at the education level to secure a research base so we have enough trained people coming through the pipeline to deliver on meeting needs - needs such as increased farming exports through trade agreements, healthcare demands and researchers to develop technology to boost yields and take new products to the global market. Chubb has also called for the establishment of an Australian Innovation Board, based on a UK model, that would be run by industry collaborating with researchers and distributing finances.
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Macfarlane and Chubb appear to be on the same page. The industry minister officially launched the Chief Scientist’s strategy last month and agreed that science is essential to building the future of Australia. He also agreed that the level of collaboration between industry and academia in Australia is “atrocious”. It’s true - we don’t have a lot of cooperation between our researchers and our businesses. We need a paradigm shift to make this happen, which requires strategic investment supported by an attractive environment for doing research that has good planning and long-term commitment.
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4 | LAB+LIFE SCIENTIST - October 2014
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