Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Australian Government Misses the Point on Innovation and Research

Dan Tehan, Australian Minister for Education

Dan Tehan, Australian Minister for Education, has announced an expert panel to provide advice on accelerating the commercialization of university research. While the panel is made up of eminent experts from research and industry, the government seems to have missed a key point on how innovation actually happens. 

Calling this "Better commercialising university research", indicates a lack of understanding of the innovation process. It is rarely the case that an academic at a university stumbles across a key discovery, and hands the finding over to business to "commercialize". What most successful projects do is have researchers work with business from the start, to identify what research directions are likely to yield useful results. Some of the researchers acquire business skills, so they can form the link between university and commerce.

In a series of talks in 1998 I suggested adopting an approach which evolved around Cambridge University (UK). In the decades since then, Australian state and territory governments, in partnership with universities and professional bodies, have set up centers at or near universities around Australia, to teach innovation and foster links. The Canberra Innovation Network (CBRIN), adjacent to the Australian National University in Canberra and at the center of a cluster of start-ups, is an example of this approach. University staff and students are formally trained in business development techniques at CBRIN, helped to undertake their own startups and make business contacts.

The government panel is made up of:

  1. Professor Michelle Simmons AO, Director of the Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology
  2. Dr Alan Finkel AO, Chief Scientist of Australia
  3. Ms Laura Tyler, Chief Technical Officer, BHP
  4. Mr Dig Howitt, CEO and President, Cochlear
  5. Professor Paul Wellings CBE, Vice-Chancellor, University of Wollongong
  6. Ms Shemara Wikramanayake, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Macquarie Group
  7. Professor Deborah Terry AO, Vice-Chancellor, University of Queensland
  8. Mr Jeff Connolly, Chairman and CEO, Siemens Australia and New Zealand
  9. Mr Andrew Stevens, Chair, Industry Innovation and Science Australia

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