Australian R&D investment drooping
The Australian Government’s Science, Research and Innovation (SRI) Budget Tables, released this week, show that overall investment in research and development is continuing to fall — a trend that is causing concern for the country’s peak body in science and technology, Science & Technology Australia (STA).
STA President Professor Emma Johnston AO said while the rest of the world is increasing spending in research and development, such as a 12.3% increase in China’s R&D investment last year, Australia is falling behind. So while recent measures by the government have stabilised funding for the nation’s major research grants and institutions, investment through the Research & Development Tax Incentive — and from business in general — continues to fall.
“We are particularly concerned to see the numbers around business investment and support for private sector research,” Professor Johnston said. “Business is investing less.”
Over the forward estimates, translational medical research is well supported through the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF), which would likely lead to a revolution in Australia’s ability to develop medical treatments, devices and pharmaceuticals.
“However, this isn’t backed up by strong support for the basic research that underpins this work, as we see investment in discovery medical research through the NHMRC falling in real terms,” Professor Johnston said.
“With investment in medical research giving a return of $3.90 for every $1 spent, according to the latest report into the economic benefit of medical research, it is ludicrous to then see this investment falling.
“We shouldn’t be putting all our eggs in one basket.”
If left uncorrected, the damage to Australian research could take decades to reverse. With this in mind, STA has advocated for a translational research fund to enable the application and commercialisation of discovery research supported through the Australian Research Council (ARC).
“32% of the total research and development budget in 2016–17 was dedicated to the R&D Tax Incentive, but clearly this incentive alone is not enough to improve Australia’s soft business research investment,” Professor Johnston said.
“An ARC-linked translation fund would be a wise and meaningful way to reassign the $2 billion savings made from recent changes to the R&D Tax Incentive, and to encourage more businesses to invest in research.
“The government speaks very highly of the STEM sector and understands the value of research and its potential to change the world for the better — it’s vital that this is backed up with the public investment and policy levers necessary to make this a reality.”
The full tables can be found here.
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