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ANU vice-chancellor says it's time for a 'Team Australia' approach to space

As a Nobel laureate who heads up the Australia National University, Brian Schmidt has a few ideas on how Australia can develop its sovereign space capabilities.
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Written by Aimee Chanthadavong on
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Image: Jamie Kidston/ANU

The Australia National University (ANU) vice-chancellor Brain Schmidt has said that greater collaboration between local universities will be necessary to help Australia build its sovereign space capabilities but insists a few things will need to change before it can happen.

"Australian universities have a critical role in designing a prosperous Australian future -- something we always need to remember -- and part of that is ensuring a diverse and well-skilled Australian space workforce, noting that we're expected to deliver roughly 20,000 jobs by 2030 … and if we work in a zero-sum mentality, we will fail," warned Schmidt, speaking at the Airbus Team Maier event on Monday evening.

"So, each of us need to work as part of the 'Team Australia' ecosystem. [A] fragmented approach, which I'm afraid that is sort of the natural state of universities, is both inefficient and doesn't scale up.

"We must educate, train, and inspire the next-generation nationally through interstate and national collaboration. We also have to create an ecosystem which is porous across government, academia, and business where people can have diverse careers combine it with diversity of ideas that they have from those careers, to create the native advances."

See also: Australian National University launches space innovation institute

The Nobel prize-winning scientist also elaborated on how universities need to take a more commercialised rather than a peer review approach to academia research.

"We need to do things differently with a commercial lens when we're trying to get commercial outcomes," he said.  

"If we want a strong space capability, we cannot conflate the two as we like to do where we're a little bit basic research and a little bit commercial and tend to do both poorly … it is a feature of the innovation ecosystem of this country in the 26 years I've been in Australia and it's one we need to move on from.

"We need to do excellent basic research and excellent commercialisation rather mediocre things between."

At the same time, while Schmidt applauded the federal government's recent introduction of its AU$250 million Trailblazer Universities Program, designed to provide support universities in R&D and commercialisation outcomes with industry partners, he cautioned that funding grants are not always the answer.

"We can no longer expect to give people a grant for three years to commercialise things and give us a report at the end. That is not what I would describe as commercialisation, so let's not spend our time doing mediocre science with no translational value," he said.

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