This is what we need to be, according to Dr Larry Marshall, CEO of CSIRO, Australia’s premier research institute. Talking to their recent mega-trends report, Dr Marshall spoke of a thriving future where we had invested in innovative solutions and embraced our scientific and technological capabilities at scale.
However, Australia’s further decline in the Harvard world ranking of economic complexity means we are not doing enough with our capabilities. This complexity ranking is determined by looking at a country’s productive knowledge and the level of complexity in the products it exports. High levels of complexity are correlated with a country’s level of income and predictive of future growth. As such, it’s a useful measure of economic development.
Our low ranking means we are not capitalising on our productive knowledge by exporting more complex products. It reflects that we export heavily in raw materials and are not value-adding to these through innovation and commercialisation of research. In fact, we have been guilty in areas such as renewables of watching other countries commercialise the technology that we have invented.
If we rely too much on commodities and do not diversify into more complex exports, we will continue to jeopardise our future growth prospects.
South Australia’s business expenditure on research and development (R&D) has been declining since 2011 – 2012 (ABS 8104.0). Now is the time to push for increased business investment in R&D as trust in science has increased as the coronavirus pandemic has shone a spotlight on scientific research and the scientists behind it. Based on the numbers alone, it makes sense. A 2021 CSIRO study calculated that at the most conservative level, for every $1 invested in R&D, Australia yielded $3.50 in economic benefit in today’s dollars and a 10% average annual return.
As the South Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, we are not the only organisation to muse the declining expenditure on R&D and the challenges of university and business collaborations. While the idea of partnerships between our business and research communities seems simple enough, for an SME (small to medium sized enterprise), finding that suitable research partner is not so straightforward. They often lack the knowledge, time, and resources to develop research networks and while each of our South Australian public universities put effort into training commercialisation-ready researchers, more needs to be done to spark collaboration.
In the Business SA pre-election campaign, we identified the opportunity for an independently led program dedicated to facilitating university-business collaboration. A primary aspect of this program would be holding regular workshops for members of the research and business communities. These sessions would act as a marketplace for businesses and researchers to learn from one another to discover opportunities and establish networks.
The urgent quest for vaccines at the start of the pandemic reminded us of the power of collaboration when business, universities and research agencies align for a common cause. Let’s harness that momentum to drive innovation and commercialisation across all sectors and create the future growth opportunities required for a sustainable South Australian economy.