Australian universities to vie for Coalition’s $200m research funding boost

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Four “trailblazer” universities will receive a funding boost of more than $200m for research hubs to advance Australian manufacturing, under a plan announced by Scott Morrison.

The policy, set out in a speech to the Business Council of Australia on Wednesday, will give each university $50m to help commercialise research in the priority areas of defence, space, resources technology, food and beverage, clean energy and medical products.

The funding was welcomed by the university sector, which has slashed jobs during the pandemic as falling international student arrivals cut into revenues used to cross-subsidise research.

The four universities will be selected by a competitive process that will consider their “commercialisation readiness”, demonstrated through industry partnerships; co-funding; intellectual property arrangements; promotion for academics who focus on commercialisation; not just pure research; and appointment of an industry leader to oversee the hub.Staff at the CSL lab in Melbourne. The Morrison government has announced more than $200m in funding for four universities for research to advance Australian manufacturing.© Photograph: Darrian Traynor/Getty Images Staff at the CSL lab in Melbourne. The Morrison government has announced more than $200m in funding for four universities for research to advance Australian manufacturing.

Each will also receive $8m in support from the science agency, the CSIRO.

Related: Deakin University to lay off more staff amid fears of second wave of education job cuts

Morrison told the BCA that university researchers are “currently incentivised to publish and have their work cited as often as possible”.

“And this publish or perish mindset is useful for getting tenure, but does little to spur innovation or create start-ups,” he said.

In a statement Morrison said the government is “putting our best minds to the task” of commercialisation of research and advancing manufacturing.

“We’re focusing our researchers and business leaders on Australia’s national priorities to help secure our economic recovery,” he said.

“The trailblazer universities will be a platform for our best researchers to find business partners, invest in entrepreneurs and achieve extraordinary results for the country.”

The education minister, Alan Tudge, said Australian universities “punch above their weight on pure basic research but lag in transforming research into breakthrough ideas, products, and new businesses”.

Universities Australia chief executive, Catriona Jackson, welcomed the announcement as “clear recognition from government of the central role universities play in productivity, prosperity and boosting sovereign capability”.

“Australian universities have a strong record of collaboration with industry partners, and the benefits this brings to the economy,” she said.

“We know that for every dollar invested in research, $5 is returned to the economy.”

The Business Council chief executive, Jennifer Westacott, said the policy would “help give us an edge in the global battle to turn our ideas into new industries, new jobs and new opportunities”.

“Our businesses are world beaters and our universities are world class, better collaboration is a no brainer,” she said.

Universities are estimated to have lost a total of 35,000 staff during the pandemic after government decisions effectively excluded them from the jobkeeper wage subsidy scheme.

On Tuesday the shadow education minister, Tanya Plibersek, criticised the government for boasting of the contribution of the tertiary education sector while “standing by” as universities slashed jobs:

In October 2020 the Coalition announced a $1.5bn fund to boost local manufacturing in a bid to fix vulnerabilities in supply chains and $1bn for university research to forestall damage to the sector caused by the drop-off in international students.

Labor broadly welcomed the manufacturing initiative but later raised the alarm about ministerial discretion to allocate most of the funding.




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