by AMANDA-JANE GEORGE
Recently, Alan Tudge has talked-up the academic entrepreneur (CMM 1 March), and the government released its University Research Commercialisation consultation paper. While the paper generated some discussion, its messages seem to have slipped under the academic radar.
Researchers need to make sure they have their say on this paper, and here’s why.
It is important to note the context of this consultation paper. It follows two innovation policy reports by Industry, Innovation and Science Australia (IISA) in 2020 and 2021. If the government adopts them, there will be two significant changes in the way the government pulls its innovation policy levers.
First, a more targeted approach will be taken to policy support. Second, while collaborative R&D will be supported, “significant” additional support will be provided to non-R&D innovation (more incremental innovation, like business model improvements). To do so, the reports suggest “streamlining” current innovation programmes.
A targeted approach will see a downsizing of broad-based support like block grant funding (for universities) and the R&D Tax Incentive (for industry). Indeed, the 2021 report recommends “a progressive shift toward direct investment mechanisms to achieve targeted outcomes for business- and higher education-performed ISR [innovation, science and research].”
The proposed changes come after 25 years of government innovation policy failing to stimulate more university-industry R&D and, ironically, just as a CQU-QUT study showed some improvement in R&D stakeholder sentiment, thanks to a significant realignment of block grant funding to applied research.
Yet the consultation paper says the current university system still over-incentivises “research excellence more than research commercialisation.”
Perhaps more surprisingly, it asks if the research sector needs a stick to its carrot – “skin in the game” – to motivate universities towards commercial outcomes. It asks for feedback on just what kind of stick to use.
So far as sticks go, the CQU-QUT study showed that engagement and impact reporting certainly did not spur institutional participants on towards more or better collaborative R&D.
The consultation paper also asks stakeholders how a scheme might better incentivise R&D.
Over the last 25 years, the government has procured over 150 innovation-related reports to try and boost collaborative R&D. One hopes that this latest consultation process will engage more productively with innovation stakeholders, in line with its recently-minted engagement framework.
In view of the changes proposed by IISA, it is important for researchers to have their say on R&D this time around, so that we can avoid another innovation policy groundhog day.
Submissions are limited to 1500 words. They close 9 April 2021, 11:59pm AEST.
Dr Amanda-Jane George teaches law at CQU. She has an LLM in intellectual property. Her PhD dissertation in patent law has been cited by the High Court.