Lost in translation: Language barrier is hurting commercialisation in Australia

It's hard to collaborate when industry want to get straight to the point and academics rely on lengthy research papers.
Written by Aimee Chanthadavong, Contributor
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Jacob Ammentorp Lund, Getty Images/iStockphoto

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) chief scientist Bronwyn Fox has described that there is a language barrier between Australia's industry and the university sectors, which has impacted the country's commercialisation levels and ultimately potential innovations.

"How can we incentivise mobility across the industry and the university sector … because at the moment, the university sector is very unfriendly to anyone who has an industry CV and who doesn't have a track record of a million publications," said Fox, speaking on a panel during the virtual Collaborate Innovate 2021 event on Tuesday.

"We need to change the system so that we can embrace those people back into the university sector, and CSIRO is already starting to do that."

Fox, who is two weeks into her new role, noted the need for both parties to "speak the same language".

"We need to understand each other's KPIs, and we need to align our values and develop really respectful relationships that have deep trust," she said.

Global Company Network Australia executive director Kylie Porter agreed the gap between researchers and businesses still exists -- and a key difference between the two is how they communicate.

"Quite often what happens is that we employ researchers, they produce really good research, but when it comes to writing out that research it's either too long, it's too convoluted, or it's too academic in nature, and what ends up happening is that we can't produce that actual piece of work to deliver to the business sector because it's just going to be lost in translation," she said.

"People in business don't have the time to read very hefty research, heavy publications in the same way that people in the academic industry do.

"Business language is far more precise than what we're seeing in a lot of the papers that are produced from the academic sector."

According to Siemens Australia CEO Jeff Connolly, the source of establishing working relationships with universities, government, as well as other companies is to focus on developing "with purpose of the future".

"We need to get the linkages working better and more systematic way to get better outcomes," he said.

Connolly touts the German tech giant invests some AU$7.5 billion globally in R&D annually, which results in 5,000 inventions every year and the production of 3,000 patents. Part of that work involves collaborating with universities, he said.

"This R&D spend largely occurs on our near-future developments, but what about further into the future? And that's something that, even with those resources, Siemens actually recognises we can't get that done by ourselves. We need to engage in universities to develop the technology with purpose of the future," Connolly said. 

In Australia, while Siemens does not have its own R&D centre, the company has established memorandums of understanding with government, universities, and other companies to collaborate on projects covering AI, mobility, agritech, and healthcare. 

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