Big bucks to come in Innovation Statement

Innovation Statement special: what the government will announce

Gift-wrapped bargain

Fair Work Australia has approved the Swinburne U enterprise agreement, one gift management will be glad to open, although they had hoped to have it a couple of Christmases back.

Unlikely agreement

The Group of Eight and National Tertiary Education Union are as one, up to a point, on venture funding for innovation. Yesterday the Go8 announced its plan for a $200m early-stage investment fund to address “the crucial gap that exists in Australia’s early stage commercialisation.” Here’s the NTEU on the same subject in its submission to Ian Watt’s research policy and funding review, where it proposed a University Research Finance Corporation. “The URFC would not only provide expert financial advice and products but could also provide a clearing house function and act as a point of contact between university researchers and commercial partners.” A JV between the two would be something to see.

UA NOV 15

Martin to leave UNSW

DVC Academic Iain Martin is leaving UNSW to become VC of Anglia Ruskin University in England. He is a loss for the Kensington campus – back in April he responded to allegations of student plagiarism on campus by stating he did not know of any but would deal with any brought to him. And so he did failing 22 students in July.

Big bucks in Innovation Statement

CMM hears that next month’s Innovation Statement will include a $1bn annual increase in funding for research and development. The new money will be allocated in part on the basis of a research impact measure, designed to encourage closer links between universities and industry. And in a big win for business the existing, much criticised research and development tax deduction will remain.

CMM understands the government has signed off on Innovation Minister Christopher Pyne’s landmark announcement after at times torrid discussion. While the cabinet is said to be solid other ministers are unhappy that the existing R&D deduction, widely considered an ineffective industry subsidy at best, remains, after lobbying from peak business bodies. The announcement will refer the deduction to the government’s consideration of tax and competition policy.

The Innovation Statement will also tie research funding to a new impact metric, designed to reward universities for working closely with industry. This decision will challenge the existing exclusive use of the Australian Research Council’s research publishing assessment, which measures university success by academic publications. The new metric is expected to be the Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering’s Research Engagement for Australia, published in April (CMM April 24).

The Innovation Statement is a huge win for Mr Pyne and the new funding for universities will divert attention from the government’s stalled plan to deregulate student fees.

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Plan out of puff

Edith Cowan U was planning to outsource management of gyms where people train who are involved in research in exercise as medical treatment (CMM November 24). But the idea was abandoned after people on campus got cross and the National Tertiary Education Union got involved, with a 1000 signature petition opposing the idea. Yesterday VC Steve Chapman declared the deal off, telling staff, “the university executive has determined that there are opportunities particularly related to academic programmes and research to be pursued through retaining management.” So that’s that. Not quite. While the university will continue to manage its gyms the VC also told staff , “there may still be challenging decisions ahead.” Sounds like a fee rise to CMM – either that or compulsory CrossFit.

Innovation options

The Australian Council of Learned Academies has slammed innovation policy and practise in Australia in a new report for the federal government. In a finding that will be new to people on Mars, Dr John Bell and his co-authors write, “measures to support the translation of public sector research in Australia are fragmented, uncoordinated and under-resourced.”

Many of their recommendations involve more money and longer times for public sector researchers to complete projects, there are also suggestions on involving HASS disciplines (ACOLA covers the humanities and social sciences). And they urge Australia not to focus too much on private sector development.

The report also reflects the common public sector suspicion of tax transfers to business and preference for officials deciding who gets what. The project found that Australia is overly reliant on indirect support for business R&D through a tax incentive. “Shifting the balance of government support for business innovation to greater use of direct measures such as grants, loans and procurement contracts would allow a more focused and targeted approach to support for research collaboration and translation,” the authors argue.

As such, this is standard stuff. Where ACOLA delivers is with the examples of research-translation strategies in 14 countries. There is a mass of information here and while more on what works and why would be good the report delivers enough examples for a masters on innovation strategy. In particular the report points to the US Small Business Innovation Research Programme and the National Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada’s Engage Grants, “where stable, well‐designed and funded translation incentives have created jobs, increased business turnover and provided societal benefits.”

But as to the big issue of impact – how, or if, universities should be rewarded for research that has economic and social outcomes, the report does not avoid the issue but creates the impression that a model to measure it is very hard indeed. “There is a myriad of pathways by which ideas that emerge in the research sector are applied in the business sector. Reciprocal, iterative models of engagement have long replaced assumptions about the one-way linearity of any connections i.e. ‘science push’.

“Furthermore, establishing the connection between research and particular business outcomes is not straightforward. It becomes increasingly difficult over time to attribute a business success to the results of research, rather than other contributing factors, such as marketing prowess. But this is not unique to a research-based input. Companies struggle to identify which part of their advertising budgets works, and how well.”

Spreading sunshine

The University of the Sunshine Coast plan for world domination (starting with Queensland) continue apace. First there was a satellite campus at Gympie, and then Hervey Bay and last week CMM noted an advance into Brisbane’s far north (CMM November 19). And now the Courier Mail reports the Sunshines want to expand their South Bank campus, in the heart of Brisbane, so it will appeal to internationals who find Brizvegas more congenial than the coast.

ANU Sep 15 1

Data on demand

A team backed by all Australian and some New Zealand universities is working on a system to manage and provide digital records of all individual student data. Years in the planning, the project, which involves Universities Australia, requires a planned funding injection to continue beyond March.

The project’s objectives are to provide digital academic records to third parties, reducing the need for students and graduates to acquire printed statements and the expensive obligation for universities to produce them.

While the project initially addresses higher education, observers suggest it could extend to non-university HE providers plus VET colleges and potentially secondary schools.

Observers say there is demonstrable and documented enthusiasm for the project which will go to a meeting of UA’s DVC corporate in the new-year for adoption of the business case.

Remembrance of wrecks past

Thanks to the reader who pointed CMM at the government’s Labor 2013-14 Budget Savings (Measures Number 2 Bill) 2015 yesterday. What fresh hell is this CMM thought, until he read Assistant Treasurer Kelly O’Dwyer’s speech in the Reps which explained that the government is giving Labor a chance to support proposals it introduced in the Reps but declined to vote for in the Senate after it lost the 2013 election. And yes, they include the Emerson efficiency dividend which would have cut higher education funding. It’s a stunt but given the way the Opposition has referred the government’s VET reform legislation to a Senate committee not unexpected.

Biomiracles

There is an argument that technology change now isn’t a patch on the 19th century (“what would you rather have YouTube or a flushing toilet?”). To which CMM says “stuff and quite possibly nonsense!” If you want an example of how the extraordinary is now the unremarkable have a look at the University of Wollongong’s  open access course on bioprinting, yes printing human organs. While open to everyone the course is a brilliant way promote the university’s teaching and research in biofabrication. Sure as hell beats yet another corporate video.

Elite opeds

If the anticipated research impact measure extends to scholars who work with we reptiles of the press James Cook U will rate well, thanks to Bill Laurance. The climate change and bio diversity researcher is wise in reptile ways, but only the most superior of snakes. Back in April Professor Laurance had an oped in the New York Times, the top-selling Sunday edition no less (CMM April 17) and on Wednesday the Washington Post ran a story which featured a paper he co-authored for Currrent Biology, on risks to the African environment from new roads and railways.

Know something the world needs to know? Anonymity guaranteed but lots of questions asked, stephen4@hotkey.net.au