The Government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda has copped its share of flak during its lifetime (viz: “whimsical cash-splash for inner-city hipsters”) plus a recent scathing assessment from the National Audit Office) but there it still is, chugging along, with a good chunk of its $1.1 billion going in the direction of highered.

One of the NISA’s core aims is to change incentives so that more university funding is allocated to research done in partnership with industry.

Arthur Sinodinos, Minister for Innovation and Science, says he has a particular focus on promoting collaboration between researchers, industry and government – in other words, the Feds are big on applied research and have been since then industry minister Ian Mcfarlane told us so back in 2015.

(If you want to read why some people think funding basic research is more important, check out Les Rymer’s ‘In defence of basic research’ in the Go8 News for March.)

Innovative tweak

An interesting aspect of the Government’s research direction is the Australian Research Council Linkage project, to which it has applied a little innovative tweak: in the past projects were announced according to an annual timetable, but last November the government moved to continual assessment, to encourage industry-university collaboration.

Under this, the ARC will fast-track high, and low, ranked applications to allow winners to start working without waiting on assessment of all other applications.

The scheme provides project funding of $50,000 to $300,000 per year for two to five years – with matching cash and in-kind contributions provided by their Partner Organisations.

Education Minister Simon Birmingham announced the first of the new-look ARC Linkage projects back in January, saying the scheme “supports our researchers to work with innovators outside the traditional research sector to find solutions to real-world problems and improve the translation of research into broader outcomes for businesses and the community”.

The first tranche

In the first tranche, the University of Wollongong and five partners were awarded $675,000 for a project to improve extend the life of railway tracks by improving stability; while University of Queensland, with partners including BHP BillitonNewcrest Mining and Santos, received $1.2m for three grants to boost productivity in minerals extraction and processing.

In February, the Minister announced $4.9 million for another 11 research Linkage projects which included:

The University of Melbourne working with the Reserve Bank of Australia to develop anti-counterfeiting features for future Australian banknotes; and Melbourne Water Corporation to develop a program to prevent waterborne diseases in drinking water;

University of Queensland researchers working with Eden Innovations to develop lighter and stronger plastics for manufacturing applications.

University of Tasmania collaborating with Young Optics to develop high speed, high fidelity 3D printing that will provide manufacturing with unprecedented capability;

Curtin University of Technology creating a partnership with the Road Safety Commission, Alzheimer’s Australia and other partners to investigate the impact of mild dementia on driving performance.

Another wave

Then, in April, Minister Birmingham announced another wave of rolling linkage grants for more practical projects.

In this round, Allan Pring from Flinders University received $485,000 to work with BHP Billiton and the Museum of South Australia on extracting copper from now uneconomic low grade ore;

Huanting Wang from Monash University received $469,000 for a project involving Coal Energy Australia and Nanjing Industrial Technology Research Institute to develop a membrane to treat waste water and for desalination and purification;

and Dr Monika Doblin from the University of Melbourne, in partnership with biopharmaceutical company Under the Tree, was awarded $466,000 to improve yields of therapeutically-active cannabinoids.

And just recently Minister Birmingham announced a further $1.2 million to support two new ARC Linkage research projects with the partner organisations providing a total of $2.6 million in cash and in-kind contributions.

The two new projects involved:

$860,000 for a project led by Professor Richard Shine from The University of Sydney to develop “a novel approach to address the devastating ecological problems caused by invasive species”. Professor Shine will work on this project with organisations including the WA Department of Parks and Wildlife; Kimberley Land Council; Matsos; World Wide Fund for Nature Australia; and Australian Wildlife Conservancy;

$365,608 for a project led by Professor Wing Chiu from Monash University to develop a new approach to assess and manage the structural health of large floating covers used by sewage treatment plants to control odour and harvest biogas, working with Melbourne Water Corporation; and Jacobs Group (Australia) Pty. Ltd.

All of the above is solid applied research in action and the kind of thing likely to appeal to taxpayers.

ARC Linkage Grants feature heavily in the impact case studies submitted to the ARC impact and engagement pilot earlier this year, and are likely to again form the backbone to many more case studies going in to ERA early next year.

All of these new projects will be ones to watch when it comes to monitoring impact of publicly-funded research dollars.

And not too many hipsters involved, either.


to get daily updates on what's happening in the world of Australian Higher Education