Unis cop a government serve on research

If university leaders had forgotten how little the government thinks of their research they were reminded in the Reps yesterday

When: It came in a debate brought on by Ted O’Brien (Lib-Queensland) who moved the House recognise the “important work being carried out in Australian businesses to research and commercialise new ideas.”

What: He and other coalition members pointed to government funding for agencies and tax concessions for corporates developing products, including the to-come “patent box” announced in the Budget (lower tax rate on patented tech – think the Research and Development Tax Incentive, but even harder to follow).

Anne Aly (Labor-WA) led for the Opposition, pointing to coalition cuts over time to CSIRO and lack of support “for fundamental research.” Colleagues made similar points.

Worth worrying about: It was all regular rhetoric, until Dave Sharma (Lib-NSW) gave the university system a very specific serve.

“Australia has a lot of the ingredients, I think, to be a very competitive, knowledge-intensive economy … But up until this point—and it’s true—we haven’t been great succeeders at commercialising some of these ideas and turning what is an incredible raw product into a marketable product that can drive economic activity.  Have we seen new businesses, new companies, new enterprises come out of our universities in the last 12 years? I wouldn’t say that there’s been a quantum leap anywhere commensurate with the research activity inputs that have gone into producing our research.”

The problem, Mr Sharma suggested, is universities focus on the rankings and “neglecting a bit the production of ideas, which can not only improve society and better our economy but lead to commercial outcomes as well.”

Lest anybody miss the point, he mentioned the government’s research commercialisation taskforce adding, “it’s important we get it right for our economic future and the prosperity of our children and their children.”

Short of a flashing neon sign stating “no rainbow for blue sky research,” it would be hard for coalition thinking to be clearer.

Especially coming from Mr Sharma, who is no backwoodsperson representing a regional seat and suspicious of academics. He is the member for Wentworth, adjacent to UNSW’s main campus. Just back in February he was nice about VC Ian Jacobs in the House (CMM February 25).