The Cooperative Research Centres Program is an integral feature of the national innovation system that makes a major contribution to industry led research, facing up to major challenges requiring a mid to long term research program, and to training researchers with skills and interest in industry based research.
However, Commonwealth funding support for the CRC Program has declined significantly over the past six years, despite increasing industry support.
Amongst OECD countries, Australia is unusually reliant on university based researchers. Advanced economies generally have a much higher percentage of researchers based in their industries. Therefore, Australia needs very strong industry-academic collaboration.
Several drivers of industry-academic collaboration are failing Australia’s interests and could be addressed by the new Australian Government through the 2014-2015 budget. These include the disincentive to collaborate with industry through lower returns to universities in the University Research Block Grants and the six-year run of reduced funding for the Cooperative Research Centres Program.
The two measures we suggest are: (1) to commit the Government to lifting the CRC Program budget over the course of the forward estimates by a total of $50 million, with $5 million committed in the coming budget, and (2) remove a significant barrier to industry-university collaboration by reclassifying the CRC Program from “category 4” to “category 1” under the University Research Block Grants scheme. The cost of this second measure would be zero.
Taken together, the two measures would provide a significant stimulus to academic researchers and Australian industry working together on major challenges facing the nation. The demonstrated benefits of the CRC Program would be further enhanced by these measures.