Chief Scientist on keeping science competitive

Cathy Foley says research freedom and broad STEM skills can do it

University research established Australian as “an international leader” in Quantum Information Science and Technology, Dr Foley states in a new paper. And the way that happened can deliver again.

Backing basic science got Aus into the game

“Foundations for Australia’s success in QIST were built by university-based basic science research teams, which focused on fundamental quantum physics problems,” Dr Foley states.

In particular, she points to the Australian Research Council centres of excellence, established to, “to facilitate transformational research and capacity building in any area of basic or applied research by investing on a larger scale and over a longer time period than existing grant schemes.” The programme,

* explicitly funded basic science research without commercialisation requirements

* did not prioritise specific research areas.

“The growth in Australia’s QIST capacity therefore happened as a natural consequence of research freedom and excellence in relevant areas.”

Dr Foley also calls for a broad-STEM workforce strategy

“Technologies with longer time horizons, such as for quantum computers, are not yet sufficiently developed to make informed judgements on which technical approaches are likely to succeed, hence a science-first approach must be adopted,” she states.

“Workforce requirements will also change substantially over the next 5-15 years, as different QIST technologies mature, requiring a broad STEM skills base at any given time, including the transition to more VET trained workers.”

Talent is essential

In the long-term Australia must grow its one – but the immediate challenge is to attract people from overseas. Fortunately, Australia has advantages. “location, infrastructure and excellence in research and higher education … makes it an attractive proposition for prospective international talent. In general, the vibrant, cohesive and collaborative Australian system can attract overseas researchers and Australian researchers who may have gone overseas to undertake PhDs or post docs.”

the take-out

“Further virtuous cycles in other STEM industries can be created through the combination of patient investment in foundational research, coordinated efforts across institutions, world-class STEM education, and support for attraction, retention and development of a diverse STEM skilled workforce at all career stages”