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Time to rethink research, Australian government told


Science academy’s pre-budget submission slams “inefficient system” and low investment in R&D

Australia needs a “comprehensive and independent review of the science and research sector”, the Australian Academy of Science has told the federal government.

In a pre-budget submission released on 7 February, the academy said the current situation was “unsustainable” and repeated its calls for R&D spending to rise to 3 per cent of GDP.

“Australia should decide the skills and capabilities we need to build and the research strengths we need to sustain them,” academy president Chennupati Jagadish said.

He called on the government to “reposition Australian science to advance national prosperity and global competitiveness”.

The academy’s submission said the 2020 rate of R&D investment of 1.79 per cent was a symptom of an undifferentiated economy with disproportionate reliance on mining and agriculture.

It said that if the levels of investment from 10 years ago had been maintained, the country would be putting another A$10.6 billion a year into R&D.

Bureaucratised and inefficient

The “30-year-old” research and science system has devolved into “an overly bureaucratised and inefficient system” spread across 13 portfolios. A national review would be “an opportunity to optimise the system’s performance and identify efficiencies and unmet needs”.

Research policy should move to supporting key strategic aims with big-picture funds and support along the lines of the Medical Research Future Fund, it said.

“Moving the dial on our R&D investment will not be achieved by another small grants programme or research initiative.”

Along with those calls, the academy slammed a “notable gap” in data on national R&D statistics, which it said meant “that our policies are not adequately informed by evidence or an understanding of what is and isn’t effective for our ecosystem”.

The Australian budget is expected on 9 May.