Wednesday, 3 February 2016
Questions without Notice
Innovation and Science
My question is to the Minister for Education and Training, Senator Birmingham. Can the minister advise the Senate how the government's National Innovation and Science Agenda will promote collaboration between universities and business to seize economic opportunities for Australia?
I thank Senator Back for his question and his longstanding interest and contribution to innovation and education policy—and, indeed, the contribution of many of his colleagues, especially from Western Australia. As the Senate is well aware, the Prime Minister together with Minister Pyne launched the government's National Innovation and Science Agenda on 7 December last year. The Turnbull government is providing an additional $1.1 billion over the next four years to support research collaboration, to incentivise innovation and entrepreneurship and to reward and encourage risk-taking. This is building on work, particularly undertaken by Dr Ian Watt, who undertook a review of research policy and funding last year. A number of Dr Watt's key recommendations were taken up in the innovation and science agenda.
One of those important recommendations was to drive greater research industry collaboration through new research block grant funding arrangements for universities, which will reward industry and end-user engagement by those universities. This responds to the fact that we are, as a nation, in the top 10 globally when it comes to our research effort—a fact we should be proud of; unfortunately, we are amongst the bottom of the nations in the OECD when it comes to business collaborating with research institutions.
The Turnbull government are providing some $127 million as part of our package here to reward university engagement with industry and to assist the transition of those universities to new arrangements, particularly in relation to block grant funding. We are going to encourage improved collaboration and focus on research that directly benefits Australians and, of course, ultimately leads to the creation of more jobs and opportunity in Australia. And responding to the business feedback, we are changing the process for Australian Research Council linkage grants to an open, year-round formula to ensure that there is greater opportunity for business to engage with universities at a time that best suits them.
A very important component of the National Innovation and Science Agenda is the very long-term security and certainty it provides to our research sector. The Turnbull government has committed to invest $2.3 billion over the next decade in national-scale research infrastructure, including, importantly, sustainable operational funding for the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy.
Last year, I heard from many people who wanted funding certainty for NCRIS who wanted to be taken off the drip-feed that in particular those opposite had put NCRIS on with funding cliffs. So by providing this long-term certainty, we can be confident we will better retain research talent in Australia, better leverage industry engagement and funding, support the network of some 35,000 researchers through the 27 projects that employ some 1,700 highly skilled technical experts, including in all states of Australia—yours as well, Senator Back, in Western Australia like the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre.
Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Can the minister inform the Senate about the science, technology, engineering and mathematics, STEM, elements of the Turnbull government's National Innovation and Science Agenda?
The National Innovation and Science Agenda is a comprehensive policy document. It recognises that 75 per cent of the fastest growing industries require STEM skills. It does not just focus on some of the research aspects that I spoke about before but steers more investment in STEM and digital literacy initiatives at school and in early learning environments. It includes $65 million to help inspire curiosity and develop science and maths knowledge particularly in early childhood but also throughout education, new online computing challenges for year 5 and 7 students nationally and investment in ICT summer schools for year 9 students. This is all in addition to the work that we have provided in getting the national curriculum focused and delivering in areas like coding, and funding for particular coding programs, as well as the expansion of opportunities for teachers to learn, such as funding for the University of Adelaide's massive open online courses in digital literacy that are helping to boost the skills of teachers right around Australia and to help them deliver the knowledge and information that will empower students in the future.