Here's an innovation measure Australia could improve on, in one embarrassing chart

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Australia’s levels of collaboration between firms and research institutions are abysmal.

This chart is from a Universities Australia research paper published last month setting out some of the facts about the contribution of universities to society and the economy.

Evidently the lack of collaboration between companies and universities is a source of frustration for the latter. The paper notes:

During 2008 to 2010, Australia ranks 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. It ranks 32nd out of 33 countries for the proportion of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) that do so. Around 4 per cent of our large firms collaborated, compared with Finland where it is about 70 per cent for large businesses and 30 per cent for SMEs or the UK where it is about 30 per cent and 20 per cent respectively.

The idea here is that companies could lift performance and innovation by working more closely with universities and public research centres, where bright people are building bodies of knowledge in specialist fields away from the day-to-day demands of the private business sphere.

Finding ways to boost the profile of university research – and better commercialising it – has been part of the discussions with industry leading up to today’s innovation statement from the Turnbull government.

Not all measures of Australia’s innovation performance are this dismal. For example, taxation arrangements could be improved but are not entirely dissuasive by international standards; the biotech sector is comparatively healthy; adaptation of technology by some of our biggest companies – think the banks, the miners, and Qantas – has been rapid and visible.

But there are a lot of untapped resources on hand. Part of today’s innovation statement from the Turnbull government – as well as unleashing around $1 billion in spending on various measures – will involve laying out ways to put them to good use.

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