By Hutch Ranck
BCA Education, Skills and Innovation Task Force
Providing vouchers to innovative businesses that allow them to buy research from universities or research groups has been the subject of recent media reports.
This creative idea has been proposed by the Queensland Government. It is just the sort of thing Australia needs to be testing if we are to lift our innovation performance.
Businesses in competitive industries know innovation is critical to their future.
New products and technologies are entering markets at a rapid rate. Businesses in global industries are organising their operations in new and more efficient ways. As a result, companies need to strive constantly to deliver better value to customers or risk losing business.
Innovation leading to a new product or service, or to improvements in the way a company works, is the key to driving better value for customers and for shareholders. Harnessing innovation is often about finding smarter ways to do things that save time and money.
If we are to do better at innovation in Australia, we need to collaborate more. Through our own experience, business knows that people need to work together effectively to make real progress. Knowing this is one thing. Putting it into place requires planning and discipline and the willingness to try new ideas.
The challenge of collaboration is a national issue. There are several areas where, as a country, we are not performing as well as we could or should be. To take just one example, effective partnerships between business and universities can be very valuable. Yet in Australia there appears to be a major divide.
Only 2.3 per cent of our innovating businesses collaborate with universities or other higher education institutions. Other nations have significantly higher connection rates. We need to do better on this front if Australia is to be globally competitive when it comes to business research and development. We need a strategy that supports Australia continuing to lift its collaborative research and development performance.
We also should consider providing more support and possibly incentives for effective collaboration in research and the rapid commercialisation of new knowledge or ideas that have demonstrated economic, social or environmental benefits.
The Business Council of Australia has called for innovation policy to support “innovation partnerships” between business and the research and education sectors, particularly by making certain that publicly funded research is informed by the needs and opportunities identified by industry.
For this reason, the Business Council applauds the Queensland Government for putting forward the research voucher proposal for innovative businesses. While it will be important for the idea to be carefully thought out and tested, it is one that has the potential to, in a practical way, improve the level of engagement between businesses and universities.
Business is not calling for all research to be linked to business objectives and outcomes.
We see a vital and continuing role for “blue sky” research.
However, all sectors must strive to make better use of applied research and bring the best minds together with business. If this can be achieved as part of a wider strategy, it would be a win-win for universities and business and for the wider community.