Australian businesses have a problem with collaborating with unis - and it could be costing them billions


Australia has a good reputation globally for research, but lags most developed economies on global rankings in collaboration between researchers and business.

A 2015 Universities Australia report said that “Australia ranked 33rd out of 33 countries on the proportion of large businesses collaborating with higher education institutions or public research agencies on product or process innovation”.

According to the OECD, Australia’s position “reflects little priority to collaboration in performance metrics of academics and weak mobility between research and business sectors, including industry placement programmes”.

BI / Research, our premium research platform, has just published the Collaboration Report, which looks at Australia’s situation, why collaboration is important to our economy, what other countries are doing in this area and what might be done to improve Australia’s record.

Collaboration between business, government and academia is key to commercialising research. PwC benchmarked Australia against other OECD countries and found that Australia’s gross domestic product (GDP) would increase by $8 billion over the next 10 years, if Australia reached just the OECD average for collaboration.

Why is the level of collaboration so weak by global standards? How can collaboration between researchers, universities and businesses be improved? These are some of the issues our report considers in detail.

Click here to sign up to BI / Research for free and get access to this report, along with in-depth looks at disruptive global technology trends >>

According to the federal Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, in 2012, Australia contributed to 3.6 per cent of the world’s research publications from 0.3 per cent of the world’s population, ranking 9th in the OECD. The department also states that Australia’s research sector produces high quality outputs – improving its share of the top 1 per cent of highly cited publications from 3.6 per cent in 2005 to 6.3 per cent in 2013. Australia has produced several world leading developments in areas such as medical research.

But despite this strong performance in producing excellent research, our ability to translate publicly funded research into commercial outcomes lags behind comparable countries. In 2013, we ranked last in the OECD on the proportion of businesses which collaborate with research institutions on innovation.

One of the problems for Australia – and one that the federal government is working to improve – is our existing complex science, research and innovation system, which involves several federal government departments and numerous councils, committees and boards. State governments are also involved. Federal government investment in research and innovation is spread across 15 portfolios.

As part of its intention to improve this situation, the federal government launched the National Science and Innovation Agenda (NISA) in December 2015. The government is also promoting initiatives to boost education in STEM subjects. However, our report questions if more STEM students is really the answer and if in fact STEM graduates are not already encouraged by relatively high salaries.

There are success stories in collaboration that do exist in Australia and we have highlighted some of these in our report. They cover sectors such as food technology, quantum computing and medical science. We also take a look at some of the programmes other countries have undertaken to boost collaboration, such as the UK’s Catapult programme and the funding schemes set up by many of the Scandinavian countries.

Data from the OECD and others shows that Australia’s science and research is top quality. The missing link is collaboration to bring that research to commercial reality. We need to encourage further links between industry, universities, CSIRO and financiers. Without this, Australia will fall further behind its global peers.

Australian businesses need to consider their approach in this area. Without action, Australia will remain as an outpost of excellent research that does not connect with the commercial world as well as it could. This is a cultural challenge, and therefore reliant on leadership and initiative, but the benefits to Australian industry and society are clear.

To read The Collaboration Report in full, sign up to BI / Research today for free.

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.