In the lead-up to the Government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda late last year, one exchange with a university vice-chancellor made national headlines. The Prime Minister didn’t like the answer he got about Australia’s low OECD standing on university-industry collaboration, so he suggested:
[Chief Scientist Alan Finkel] is very strongly of the view that if we can change the incentives both for academics and business, we can get some different outcomes. We should try that. … Don’t be defeatist.
Quite right. But on my reading of the collaboration component of the Agenda, I see incentives for academics but hardly a thing to change business.
The document states: “This Agenda includes a package of measures to translate our world leading science and research into growth opportunities.” What the Agenda should also include is something to better translate our existing opportunities into world leading outcomes.
We should pay very close attention to our existing R&D spend. The Agenda is valued at $1.1bn over four years. So per-annum, this only represents a 2.8% increase over the government’s 2015-16 R&D spending of $9.7bn.
And when you break down our existing spend, the single largest component – larger indeed than the entire R&D spend on the higher education sector – is R&D tax measures for business.
The Agenda goes on to state: “We will introduce clear and transparent measures of non-academic impact and industry engagement when assessing university research performance.” Well and good, but no such measures or accountability of any sort apply to business tax measures. Businesses just declare they’ve spent money on some kind of R&D and collect their tax credit.
Historically, we know that most innovation is based on a recombination of existing knowledge, concepts and technology. That is why I believe, along with prominent business academics and think tanks, that the R&D Tax Incentive should favour collaborations.
And I also think, going further still, that all cross-organisational collaborations should be incentivised, not just university-industry collaborations.
Innovation is a process, not a sector, and we shouldn’t favour any particular source of innovation over another.
This is an edited extract from an article for The Warren Centre. Read the full post.