Introduction

gemaker welcomes the opportunity to provide input on the consultation paper to review   Research Block Grant Reform to boost incentives for greater University and Industry Collaboration.

gemaker provides expert advice, services and training in research commercialisation and technology transfer. Our senior team members average more than 20 yearsโ€™ experience in this field.

Since 2011, we have helped more than 45 research organisations and over 90 innovative businesses โ€“ ranging from start-ups to fast-growth SMEs to ASX-listed companies โ€“ to take new knowledge and technology to global markets. As a key part of our work, we have assisted universities and industry partners to improve the level of industry engagement through specific training and identification of innovative research and development projects which provide insights into the current consultation process being run by the Department.

In support of our submission gemaker undertook a survey of some of its industry clients to understand the key drivers they have in determining the extent to which they engage in research projects with university partners. A summary of the results is outlined below in our submission and forms the basis of our recommendations.

gemaker client survey feedback

The 18 respondents to the gemaker survey provided broad coverage of industries including manufacturing, mining, construction, medical and pharmaceutical, financial services, transport and logistics and government.

71% of the respondents have engaged in collaborative research with universities in the past 5 years. However, only 1 relies on the ERA ranking to determine with which institution they should collaborate. Importantly approximately 95% of respondents rely on feedback from their industry networks as to those universities which have had successful interactions with industry partners previously and are undertaking truly leading innovative research.

Also importantly over 83% of respondents found it difficult and frustrating to engage with universities to undertake collaborative research which indicates that more needs to be done around how collaborative arrangements are put in place and made easy through small early-stage interactions to increase the number of SME partners rather than skewing grants to a limited number of larger collaborations.

Over 70% of respondents indicated they would support their staff undertaking courses to increase their skills and knowledge and similar numbers in engaging research in business programmes.

Overall the feeling from respondents is they are keen to increase industry-university collaborations provided there is an easy framework for engagement that is separate from funding support for innovative research.

Recommendations

It is important that Australia achieves the right balance in supporting early-stage discovery research as this will in turn lead to stronger university-industry collaboration and the commercialisation of new and emerging innovative trends.

The following detailed recommendations are made in respect of the two categories incorporated into the University Block Grant framework:

Research Services Programme

  • Consistent support for Early-stage Research & Development
    Consistent policy support for early-stage and discovery research is important for Australia to position itself at the forefront of innovative thinking and technology delivery. Increased weighting of research funding to late-stage research will only provide a short-term uplift in collaboration with industry.

    The gemaker survey found that over 70% of respondents target research collaborations with institutions that not only have a successful record of industry partnerships but also where they can see a broad level of early stage research which may assist those industry partners to implement new opportunities not considered before.

  • Promotional Funding tied to R&D
    The gemaker survey of its industry clients showed overwhelmingly they rely on existing networks (rather than irregular ranking tables) to help identify where relevant research is being undertaken at universities. Adding a promotional funding element to block grants to support the promotion of leading university research and to fund market research to help identify appropriate industry partners to target would create a better pipeline of university-industry collaboration.

  • Government Operational Expenditure
    The suggestion in Appendix 1 of the consultation paper that government departmental expenditure on research and development will not carry the same weighting as industry is a fundamental misunderstanding of the need for government to identify and implement innovative new technologies and ideas as part of its service delivery. Given that most departments have an innovation budget to improve their service delivery expenditure incurred should be seen as the same as industry collaborative research & development expenditure and carry the same weighting for block grant calculation purposes.

Research Training Programme

  • Researcher in Business Scholarships
    As part of the scholarships awarded there should be a proportion that fund a University-Researcher-in-Business / Business-Researcher-in-University program to promote collaboration in, and translation of, innovative research outcomes

    There is a clear need to make it easier for researchers to move roles between university and industry without affecting their career prospects. This will enable better quality translation and integration of innovative technologies developed by researchers. It will also enable researchers who spend time working with industry partners to bring back a clearer understanding of the challenges facing industry and undertake more focussed research to address broad industry needs.

  • Micro credentialled industry short courses
    Increasing industry-focussed short courses in new emerging areas will enable industry to upskill existing employees to make it easier for them to adapt to new technologies. At the same time, connecting industry through training with researchers will reduce the existing gap in understanding of skills and how research outcomes could be translated into new industry delivered technologies.