National policy changes needed to boost Australia's innovation: ACOLA

The Australian Council of Learned Academics has made 15 key findings as part of its latest report that shows Australia needs to make some urgent changes to improve the nation's innovation level.
Written by Aimee Chanthadavong, Contributor

A new report by the Australian Council of Learned Academics (ACOLA) has identified there is a link between developing national policies and programs and a country's economic performance.

The report, Translating research for economic and social benefit: country comparisons[PDF], looked at the economic performance and the level of innovation in Australia compared with 14 other countries including Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, the United Kingdom, Israel, the United States, Canada, South Korea, Japan, Singapore, China, Brazil, and Chile.

It highlighted that Australia has the lowest level of collaboration between public sector researchers and businesses; many public sector researchers are not actively seeking involvement in translation activities; there is a lack of demand on the part of business, industry, and other potential users who are not motivated to engage; and there is lack of effective intermediaries to facilitate links between public sector researchers and external parties.

"Australian researchers perform well by international standards and some Australian universities are among the best in the world. However, no Australian university is ranked in the top 100 innovative universities worldwide," the report said.

"Engagement and research translation on the part of public sector researchers in Australia is low by OECD (Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development) standards. This is despite Australian public R&D expenditure as a percentage of GDP being slightly above the OECD country average."

The report went on saying: "The contrast with Australia is stark, and our review shows how our policies and supportive programs are piecemeal, opportunistic, and almost invariably short-lived."

As part of identifying 15 key findings, the report suggested that Australia could economically and socially benefit if a suite of stable practices is established. At the same time, it suggested that more support needs to be given to small and medium enterprises and startups, and improvements need to be made to encourage collaboration such as making adjustments to Australia's business R&D tax incentive and introducing a range of agencies to manage national collaboration.

John Bell, the chair of the report's Expert Working Group, said there were measures in other countries that could be adopted to lift Australia's performance.

"What we found is that other nations have ongoing, stable support measures, with multiple incentives enabling parties to capitalise on potential wherever it lies," he said.

Bell noted, for example, in the United States, the Small Business Innovation Research Program has been operating for 33 years, and has been replicated successfully by other countries.

Similarly, Bell said Canada's Natural Science and Engineering Research Council Engage Grants have helped encourage business interaction, especially for SMEs, with public sector researchers.

Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science Christopher Pyne welcomed the feedback from the report, saying that if the country was going to excel in areas of innovation, criticism is a necessary part of the process.

"In this report we are being compared to high-performing innovative nations, and it is important we learn from their strategies," he said.

The release of the report comes ahead of the Australian government's announcement of its innovation agenda, which will contain a set of policies focused on how Australia can attract and retain talent, as well as how the nation should support and encourage startups.

"We have been working hard on our national innovation policy and between now and the agenda's release we will continue to tweak and build on what we have created," Pyne said.

"The Prime Minister and I have said that innovation, science and entrepreneurship are crucial to establishing the jobs of the future and promoting employment growth to secure the country's future economic prosperity."

Earlier this month, the federal government appointed private equity veteran Bill Ferris as chair of Innovation Australia, an independent body established by the government to push forward the country's innovation performance.

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