The Contribution of the Higher Education Sector to Australian Research and Development

By Burgio-Ficca, Claudia | Australian Journal of Education, December 2001 | Go to article overview

The Contribution of the Higher Education Sector to Australian Research and Development


Burgio-Ficca, Claudia, Australian Journal of Education


During the last two decades the higher education sector has accounted for over one quarter of all research and development expenditure in Australia. A review of empirical and case study research in this area indicates that, despite a growing body of literature, surprisingly little work has been undertaken on the actual contributions of the higher education sector to Australian R&D. This paper aims to present a review of R&D expenditure trends within Australia and explore the contribution of the higher education sector to such research. It further highlights the type of research conducted and the source of funding for the research. Research and development is vital to the advancement of knowledge and thus the contribution of the higher education sector is of great importance.

1 Introduction

In Australia, research and development is conducted by a number of institutions, governing bodies and business enterprises. Research and development (hereafter referred to as R&D) has been aptly defined by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (1980) as: `Creative work undertaken on a systematic basis in order to increase the stock of knowledge--including knowledge of man, culture and society--and the use of this knowledge to devise new applications'. Ultimately R&D is about knowledge and, since research is an intellectual process, it is also about people. It is a source of innovation and thus a contributor to national economic growth. R&D can have a positive impact on the productivity of individuals, firms and the community in general. Moreover, at least in theory, the greater the level of R&D, the greater is the influence on the quality of life within a society. It is assumed that R&D will assist the quality of life through enhancing the progression of knowledge.

A review conducted by the Industry Commission (1995) indicated that, despite a growing body of literature on the benefits and/or spillovers of R&D, surprisingly little work has been undertaken on the actual contributions of the higher education sector to R&D. In 1998-99 the Australian government allocated $2578.8 million or 29.4 per cent of all R&D funding to the higher education sector. This level of funding alone should be sufficient to warrant greater analysis of higher education. Investigation is required into not only the outcomes of research projects, but also the possibility of spillover effects arising from the R&D undertaken.

In recent years it has come to the attention of the Commonwealth Government that, if Australia is to maintain the pace of global research and development, then changes are required ii1 the current funding arrangements. In November 1999, the Minister for Education, Training and Youth Affairs, Dr David Kemp, released Knowledge and innovation: A policy statement on research and research training. The policy statement announced major changes to the current funding arrangements for higher education research. The changes included a strengthened Australian Research Council (ARC), performance based funding for research places and research activity in universities, the establishment of a quality verification framework and research programs to assess the needs of rural and regional communities. The recent release of the `Knowledge Nation' policy by the Australian Labor Party indicates that both major political parties are serious about investing in R&D in Australia.

In addition to revising the current system of higher education R&D funding, in recent years, the Commonwealth Government has also commissioned a number of reports on R&D including, `The virtuous cycle--working together for health and medical research' (May 1999), `Shaping Australia's future' (October 1999), `Knowledge and innovation' (December 1999), `Innovation--unlocking the future' (August 2000), and `The chance to change' (November 2000). More recently, the Department of Industry, Science and Resources, (2001) presented a five-year strategy plan for innovation growth in Australia titled, Backing Australia's ability. …

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