An overview of the CRC Program
The CRC Program was established in 1990 to improve the effectiveness of Australia’s research effort through bringing together researchers in the public and private sectors with the end users. The CRC Program links researchers with industry and government with a focus towards research application. The close interaction between researchers and the end users is the defining characteristic of the Program. Moreover, it allows end users to help plan the direction of the research as well as to monitor its progress.
Since the commencement of the Program, there have been fourteen CRC selection rounds, resulting in the establishment of 190 CRCs over the life of the Program. Applications for the fifteenth selection round have just closed and the successful applicants will be announced in December. CRCs operate across the Manufacturing, Information and Social Services, Mining and Infrastructure, Agriculture, Environmental Services, and Medical Service sectors.
The present definition of a CRC is
a company formed through a collaboration of businesses and researchers. This includes private sector organisations (both large and small enterprises), industry associations, universities and government research agencies such as the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), and other end users. This team of collaborators undertakes research and development leading to utilitarian outcomes for public good that have positive social and economic impacts.
However this definition only tells a part of the story. As the Program has grown and matured, further benefits have emerged, including:
- CRCs assemble multidisciplinary teams from across research providers to address end user driven research. They collaborate across all sectors (Industry, Academia, State Government, Consumers and Industry Associations) and create a critical mass in their field. No other Australian Government program does that!
- CRCs provide companies, including multinationals, with a unique and attractive proposition .deal through one organisation (the CRC) that can assemble the best teams in the Australia to develop the technology that the company needs, managing the process professionally to deliverables and gearing it with funds from the Commonwealth and research providers who are sharing the risks, and the returns.
- CRCs are managed to deliver impacts not just publications, and are held to account to deliver.
- The stability of funding provides certainty for the research partners in particular and also for the end-user partners.
- CRCs provide research management skills and discipline. This helps ensure the research is managed to a high standard.
- The level of governance is a real strength. The overall activities are actively managed by the CRC management team and Board to maximise the national benefits. This includes terminating, redirecting or accelerating projects in a way that is not part of the culture of most other programs.
- CRCs provide a mechanism for realising unanticipated commercial opportunities, i.e. in cases where technologies have applications beyond the interests of the commercial partners, the CRC can pursue these through the creation of spin off companies, licenses etc.
- CRCs play an important role in bridging the gap between discovery research funded by NHMRC and ARC grants and the requirements of industry for commercialisation-ready innovations.
- CRCs foster “hands-on” learning. Although they are heavily focused on postgraduate education, and thereby providing training for very highly skilled professionals, CRCs are involved, to differing extents, at all levels of the education and training system.
- CRCs encourage innovation through their interaction and reach with small and medium size enterprises.
- A CRC is neutral and un-aligned and so can provide a central focus from which grows collaboration. CRCs are respected for their integrity and are trusted to have the interests of participating bodies as a core principle so that participants have confidence and no fear of presenting ideas for examination. This approach is critical to gaining the confidence of Indigenous people and organisations.
The delivered impacts of the CRC Program
Since its commencement the CRC Program has been regularly and meticulously reviewed. The most recent review of delivered impacts from the Program was the 2006 study on the delivered economic impacts of the CRC Program commissioned by the Australian Government. In this study fifty examples were included of delivered economically quantifiable beneficial applications of CRC research.
The 2006 study also highlighted the strong pipeline of research within CRCs that would be expected to deliver significant future benefits. In the 50 solid, quantified examples considered, only the clearly measurable components of the outcomes were included in the calculation of the net economic impact of the Program.
Looking only at these clearly quantifiable impacts, the study showed that as a result of each dollar invested in the CRC Program, Australian Gross Domestic Product is cumulatively $1.16 higher than it would otherwise have been (had the money instead been used for tax reductions) and Total Consumption is cumulatively $1.24 higher than it would otherwise have been (had the money instead been used for tax reductions).
It is important to note that Gross Domestic Product and Total Consumption are two critical indicators of the economic welfare of the Australian community rather than being measures of the private returns to CRC participants.