University-industry engagement and RHD opportunities were the hot topics discussed at the Australian Council for Graduate Research (ACGR) National Meeting last Monday. Discussion crystallised around several key issues.

Communication is keyConnection and communication emerged as a common thread, and fundamental to getting traction on the engagement issue.

John McGagh (Chair, ACOLA Review), highlighted the need for a ‘common language’ to smooth the way, noting familiar industry-research sector communication issues – differences in time sensitivities, expectations, values – remain problematic.

Mike Pope (Policy Advisor, BCA) similarly addressed communication blocks, highlighting the role platforms for interaction can constructively serve.  Co-location initiatives for industry/research participants were encouraged as one means to mitigate “lost in translation” outcomes of business receiving confused messaging around benefits and incentives for research sector engagement.

Background to  new papers from Industry Innovation and Science Australia was provided by chair Andrew Stevens.

Focusing on engagement as a (business) demand-pull rather than research-sector push issue, Stevens suggested the HE sector “understand the customer better and change the way it is that you’re trying to relate to them”. Familiarising industry with the benefits of integrating more PhDs will not only drive a more “in tune” outcomes but will have industry “beating down doors” to hire more RHD graduates. Ultimately, Stevens’ argued, better engagement will shape a research sector able to ‘significantly reduce’ its reliance on government funding.

Communication and connectivity was then underscored by Amanda-Jane George (CQU PRC, College of Business & Law) as crucial both to delivering more productive industry-research sector engagement and innovation, and, at the micro level, increasing the number of RHD graduates in industry.

As innovation ecosystems are highly networked, complex and dynamic in nature, Dr George argued, industry-research relationships inescapably constitute part and parcel of this landscape. By addressing engagement in systems terms, greater traction can be made around connection-forging initiatives, facilitating actors’ ability to respond to disruption and building on both demand- and supply-side narratives

Non-R&D, missions driven initiatives: Research-sector enthusiasm for two of IISA latest proposed policy measures – inclusion of a non-R&D innovation focus, and mission driven initiatives – emerged as the second common thread at the meeting.

Including non-R&D innovation in the policy narrative potentially opens up further research and employment opportunities for BEL faculty RHD students. Their expertise in innovations ranging from new ways of marketing, improving  business models and workforce innovations, through to in-licensing of intellectual property, technology adoption and analytics, has direct relevance to firms wanting to excel in non-R&D innovation.

The notion of missions-driven initiatives also received support. As the HASS delegates pointed out, missions-driven research aligns well with disciplines that focus on important translational rather than commercial research. Further, initiatives producing health, environment, national and cultural enrichment outcomes, for example, are consistent with the UN’s sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and add extra impetus to the movement to include social innovation in the wider innovation policy narrative.

Towards a coordinated triple-helix joint venture: IISA’s call for a coordinated, whole-of-government response to the issue of innovation priority-setting and funding was not discussed at the ACGR meeting, despite its potential to be the most welcome recommendation from IISA’s recent raft of papers.

Greater coordination needs are a clear take away from the Department of Education, Skills and Employment recent university research commercialisation consultation paper.  Despite its call for in-put on criteria for selecting missions, the paper’s silence on IISA’s work in the area is notable.  IISA’s suggestions that government form new, carefully implemented and evaluated innovation, science and research principles to guide innovation funding, including missions, are timely and sensible. However, IISA’s lack of clarity on stakeholder input regarding front-end design of the principles and system-level priorities may undermine these targets.

Divided HE sectoral interests post closure of the DESE submission process have – perhaps unsurprisingly – emerged (CMM, 12 April). Whether and how any DESE university research commercialisation scheme works in with DISER, and the proposed IISA initiatives, remains unclear.  Prospects of further stakeholder involvement, including what shape that might take, is equally so. We may get some clarity following ATN’s innovation summit next week.

If dialogue on engagement and innovation can be fostered in systems terms, coordinated, inclusive conversation around the inherent complexities involved will be better supported. The choice is beyond demand- and supply-push incentives or commercial returns. It goes to broader social- and cultural returns as well. R&D is of critical importance to Australia’s future economy and sovereign capabilities. But innovation is also about intrepreneurship (CMM, 5 April), non-R&D innovation and ‘tinkering’ to make businesses better, especially for SMEs.

Engagement able to leverage off the strengths of each strand of the innovation triple helix (government, industry, research) requires a coordinated, transparent, inclusive dialogue. As the ACOLA Review observed, ‘additional reviews are unlikely to uncover fundamentally new insights. The system now needs a strategy to develop and implement responses.’

Purposeful movement towards a triple helix joint venture with connected, coordinated strategies and roles – and clear, inclusive dialogue – should be the target.


Amanda-Jane George (Dr Amanda-Jane George is a Postgraduate Research Coordinator, teaching and researching in Innovation & IP Law at CQUniversity School of Business and Law)

Julie-Anne Tarr (Dr Julie-Anne Tarr is a Professor of Commercial Law at QUT,  teaching and researching complex projects, alliancing & PPP structuring and risk management, regulation of emerging technologies


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