Australian cuts make synergistic solutions

Anant Naik

For the past several years, the Australian government has struggled to satisfy researchers and develop the sciences. Although the country’s economy has been booming for the last decade, recent cuts to various research programs have concerned many people in the nation’s scientific community.

This community heavily criticized the Australian government when a Parliamentary Library analysis showed that spending on research and development in 2014-15 fell to only 0.56 percent of Australia’s gross domestic product — the lowest value in over three decades.

Thankfully, it seemed like these cuts made way for a new reform. The Australian government recently appointed five business leaders and five leading researchers to form the Commonwealth Science Council to develop a stronger link between Australia’s industry and research sectors in medicine, green technology and many other parts of the Australian economy.

This policy kills two birds with one stone. First, it continues to boost the Australian economy. Second, it helps develop the country’s research sector. This move will not only help Australia’s economy, but it will also help the country develop competition within the research industry.

One of the primary objectives of research is to produce products that solve society’s problems. In order to actually help people, research requires the assistance of industry, which allows scientists to make medicine and other useful products in large quantities.

If there is more cooperation between Australia’s industrial and research sectors, both can respond to each other’s needs. For example, if there is a demand for a certain drug, the research sector can optimize a certain procedure, and then the industry sector can produce a product and deliver it.

Professor Les Field of the Australian Academy of Sciences says this new program could help researchers overcome “the valley of death,” which is a transition state during which research outcomes aren’t able to attract significant investment.

The synergistic relationship between industry and research also increases competitiveness. This isn’t a bad thing. Under the new policy, research firms will compete against each other to produce the most effective, cost-efficient product. That helps consumers acquire the best possible drug available in the market.

The benefits of this new policy are not only economic, as it also may affect school reform. For decades, we have heard about a gap between graduates’ knowledge and the skills that are actually needed in the workforce. Even in Australia, this gap remains prevalent. This new inter-industry cooperation provides an opportunity to help Australian students better prepare for a competition-driven workforce.

This policy is a great step forward for Australia, but it’s also something that we need to consider in the United States. In the Twin Cities, there are many corporations that hire University of Minnesota undergraduates and graduates who are heavily involved in research. However, economic growth remains slow across the U.S. — perhaps the government should also revitalize the role of the research sector in the economy.