Tag Archives: Innovation and Science Australia

innovation nation

Lifting Australia’s innovation performance

For the last two and a half decades Australia has enjoyed sustained economic growth, booming employment and favourable living standards. But in more recent years, the country’s high labour costs have forced many companies to source products and services overseas, leading to a slump in Australian productivity.

With increasingly tough competition from developing nations this trend is set to continue, leaving legitimate concerns about our ability to thrive as a commodity-based economy; and therefore our future prosperity.

Meanwhile, the word ‘Innovation’ has dominated political and business discourse for quite some time – portrayed by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull as the silver bullet to transitioning Australia’s economy.

But if ‘Innovation’ is to successfully create long-term productivity growth across all sectors, it needs to be more than just a buzzword. Optimising R&D, reforming our approach to risk and entrepreneurship, transforming our scientific and digital capabilities and growing the industries of the future. These are all complex, weighty challenges, demanding not just significant investment, but genuine structural change.

Innovation and Science Australia (ISA) was launched in December 2015 as part of the Government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda (NISA). It is an independent statutory board responsible for researching, planning and advising the Government on all innovation, science and research matters.

ISA Chair Bill Ferris AC spoke to us in an exclusive interview, ahead of his presentation at the AFR Innovation Summit, and in the lead up to ISA’s highly anticipated 2030 Strategic Plan for Australian innovation. He acknowledges a number of challenges facing the nation in becoming a top-tier innovation nation.

One of his primary concerns is ensuring our education system is equipping Australian school leavers and VET and higher education graduates for the continuing wave of technological change and the shift to a highly innovative Australian economy and society.

“Alarming decline in student participation and performance in STEM subjects is a significant challenge for the Australian economy moving into a more innovative and technologically enabled future”, he says.

ISA’s 2030 Strategic Plan will set out five key imperatives for lifting Australia’s innovation performance and will align these five imperatives with twenty plus key recommendations to government.

Hear more from Mr Ferris about Australia’s innovation strategy at the Australian Financial Review’s Innovation Summit in Sydney on 19-20 September.

Learn more and book your place here.

– Amy Sarcevic, Informa Australia

Australian Innovation System

Australian innovation system in focus

The most comprehensive review of the Australian innovation system ever conducted was released this week by Innovation and Science Australia (ISA). If it was your child’s school report, you’d be saying we better have a serious discussion over dinner.
 
The conversion might go something like:

ISA: “We’ve had this discussion before, Australia. We’ve got your report and it’s OK but when are you going to really step up?”

Australia: “It’s not bad though. The Knowledge Creation teacher likes me.”

ISA: “It’s not a matter of whether the teacher likes you, or you like the teacher. We just want the best for you and if you are going to have a great future, you’ve got to put in the hard work across the board, not just in the areas you enjoy. Everyone likes you, Australia, but that’s different to doing the best you can.”

Australia: “Yeah, I know I could do more in transfer and application, but you want me to be like Israel or Singapore and they never have any fun and just work all the time”.

 ISA: “We’ve never said you can’t have fun. But at some stage you need to put your head down and get on with some serious work.”

Australia: “Yeah, yeah, I know….”
 
You get the picture. The full report on the Australian innovation system can be found here.

The report concentrates on the three areas of knowledge creation, knowledge transfer and knowledge application and establishes 20 measures across these. Clear benchmarks are set out between Australia’s performance and the average of the top five OECD performers, which gives a pretty clear guidance for future improvement.

The 20 measures were whittled down from an initial group of over 200 and they’ll be the basis for measuring the impact of future policy change. The report’s performance assessment is fairly general across the three key areas, rather than specific at the program level.

The rubber will hit the road during the coming phase as ISA pulls together a strategic plan for innovation and science in Australia to 2030. It’s hard to disagree at the moment when the conclusions are that we need to do better in a number of general areas. The contentious part will come much more in the strategic planning and implementation stage where change will be needed.

The performance review, which runs to over 200 pages and more than 700 references, provides an excellent baseline for future evaluation and Innovation and Science Australia deserves credit for publication of this important body of work.

It has the potential to become the reference material for judging performance of programs and their contribution to an overall Australian innovation strategy. At the very least, the assessment identifies which programs are regularly, thoroughly and transparently reviewed and those that are not.

An obvious part of the coming strategic plan will be to ensure all parts of the Australian innovation system are independently reviewed on a regular basis so their contribution to the overall strategy is maximised.

But this is not just a report for the government or ISA, where they should be tasked to simply fix things. It should be used across business, research organisations and all levels of government because it pulls together international data and lays out clearly where we stand as a country.

The assessment is a solid base to build on and could give the much needed longer-term vision needed for innovation in Australia.

– Dr Tony Peacock, CEO of the CRC Association

Click here to read the Performance Review of the Australian Innovation, Science and Research System 2016.

This piece on the Australian Innovation System was first published by the CRC Association on 7 February 2017. Read the original article here

job growth

What are the big three drivers to job growth?

Increased collaboration, stability of policy and acceleration of commercialisation are three main drivers of innovation and job growth that must be addressed to accelerate Australia’s economy in the next 15 years.

The top three drivers were identified at the AFR National Innovation Summit today by Chairs of the boards of Telstra, BHP Billiton and Innovation and Science Australia.

The panel warned that fears around the effects of disruption on jobs must be part of the conversation, and that the effects of digital disruption through automation, and artificial intelligence were inevitable.

This disruption will affect people and jobs whether they are “in Woomera or Sydney”, says Bill Ferris, Chair of the board of Innovation and Science Australia.

“In five years we’ve seen the rise of Uber and Instagram, and the collapse of the mining boom. What is coming towards us will dwarf the change of pace [in disruption] to date,” says Dr Nora Scheinkestel, Chairman of Macquarie Atlas Roads and Director of Telstra Corporation and Stocklands Group.

Policy and R&D tax incentives

Crucial to Australia’s ability to innovate is the stability of policy such as the R&D tax incentive, which aims to encourage private investment in Australian R&D.

Along with Chief Scientist Alan Finkel, Bill Ferris was part of a team that reviewed the incentive for government to evaluate how much investment the incentive has created and the scheme’s effectiveness.

“I agree it is valuable and should be continued,” says Ferris. “Can it be improved? I think so. It’s been a $3 million cheque and the largest there has been. But there is nothing in the scheme that requires collaboration, whether CSIRO or academia.”

Incentivising collaboration is a no-brainer next step, says Ferris.

“I don’t think business is trying as hard as academia. Universities are getting on with business, creating spin-offs like QUT’s Spinifex, and Ian Fraser’s cancer vaccine. It’s very impressive.”

Stability of the R&D investment scheme is key to its success, says Carolyn Hewson AO, Director, BHP Billiton, Stockland Group and Federal Growth Centres Advisory Committee.

Hewsen says BHP Billiton was ‘deeply’ affected as a company by the collapse of the mining boom this year. “Every company is under pressure to innovate.” (See “How big companies can innovate)

“There is a role for government to address the KPIs they set around research funding.

KPIs need to move to speed of commercialisation rather than publication in tier 1 journals.”

“My concern is it is very easy for government with 3-year time horizon to make decisions on funding over a long term investment. Research projects extend out many years. To be subject to be changing regulation of government regulated by short-term political cycle is very worrying.”


How big companies can innovate

– Carolyn Hewson AO, Director of BHP Billiton, Stockland Group and Federal Growth Centres Advisory Committee

  • Hastening production
  • Accelerating technology competencies
  • Innovation hubs working to address innovative solution to specific challenges, eg. automation of trucks and drills
  • Step-up programs to build from the inside of the company
  • Partnerships with universities and CSIRO, CRCs on engineering and remote operations

Collaborate and commercialise for job growth

Ferris is optimistic about Australia’s ability to respond to the challenge to grow jobs by 2030. Agribusiness, aquaculture, cybersecurity, environmental services, renewables, and new materials were all strong potential job growth areas, he says.

“A lot more work needs to be done by business on reaching in. If we can’t commercialise around our inventiveness we won’t create the jobs that we could and that we deserve.”

Scheinkestel says the ecosystem is essential to drive innovation and job growth.

“The big message from Israel is the ecosystem created between business and academia, and in their case the military, where young people are taught strong leadership skills. They commercialise or adapt tech they have been looking at, get the backing of VC, which are supported by consistent policies from government around tax regimes.

“Again in Silicon Valley, you are talking about an ecosystem, a constellation of start-ups with shared resources and again consistency in policies and tax incentives.”

Hewson agrees that work skills are essential to our future and that there is concern about workforce skills in Australia across a number of advanced manufacturing, mining and medical sectors.

“We want to enhance global competitiveness and build on strategic collaboration within these sectors,” she says.

“It’s not just about growth, it’s about survival,” adds Scheinkestel.

Heather Catchpole

Australia's innovation sector

Rethinking Australia’s innovation sector

Tony Peacock takes a closer look at Australia’s innovation sector compared to the rest of the world. 

Innovation and Science Australia, the new body created in last December’s National Innovation and Science Agenda, has not sat idle during the election period. The Office of Innovation and Science Australia wound up a series of strategic workshops in Canberra yesterday, developing a 15-year Strategic Plan for Australia’s innovation sector. The plan will develop over the next year and will be a vitally important guiding document in setting direction for Australia’s innovation sector to 2030.

As is the case with many workshops, the facilitator asked each participant to make an opening observation, and mine surprised the person next to me. I was surprised at her surprise. It was basically that even the depiction in graphics of innovation as a linear process that moves from knowledge creation to knowledge transfer through to knowledge application can be fraught. It can over emphasise the expectations on universities in our innovation system. Our system is relatively highly reliant on universities already and we have to be very careful not to expect them keep doing more and more. The primary role of universities is to teach and their biggest impact in the innovation system is to develop talent. All universities also conduct research, but in Australia, we rely on university research much more heavily than most countries.

To illustrate, I’ve pulled out the OECD figures on who performed R&D in four countries in 2013 (the latest year with information for Australia, the USA, Germany and Israel). I chose these particular countries because we often hear comparisons between their systems and ours. Relative to other countries, Australia is roughly twice as reliant on universities to perform our total national research effort. Business in Australia performs relatively less research than business in the other countries but it is important when framing strategic directions to remember that in Australia, businesses still do double the research of our universities. Business is absolutely not sitting at the end of a knowledge generation process waiting to be fed.

This is not at all a criticism of universities. Australian universities are an unmitigated success. They do a brilliant job of teaching Australian and international students at both undergraduate and graduate levels. They do brilliant research. There is no doubt they can do better at engaging with industry, but most have lifted very significantly in that space already. How much more can we genuinely expect? Many universities are expressing concerns that they are cross-subsidising research with teaching dollars already (a fraught argument itself because students are attracted to high reputation universities, who largely drive reputation through their research profile). But they are probably leveraged about as far as possible.

Surely the key strategic issue in Australia’s innovation sector is to drive more business innovation? Relative to the rest of the world, our businesses do less research, but they are still the largest part of the innovation system as a whole. We need to think of business as the main player it is in performing R&D and how we can encourage yet more business research to enhance national prosperity. The people at the Office of Innovation and Science Australia are on to it and they acknowledge that there is “no simple way to fully describe its (Australia’s innovation sector) components or dynamics”. Perhaps that’s because in many ways it is not a “system” at all, which makes the task of strategic planning that much more difficult. It is certainly a task worth supporting.

This article was first published by the Cooperative Research Centre Association on 13 July 2016. Read the original article here.