Staff Association President Michael Borgas reports from the Science meets Superannuation forum and asks whether growing new revenue streams for science through superannuation represents a step in the right direction for science funding.
HELD in Melbourne recently, the Science meets Superannuation forum is the latest offering from Science and Technology Australia.
The inaugural event brought together key players from the superannuation sector, scientific research representatives, industry and innovation big thinkers, as well as Federal Ministers Chris Evans and Bill Shorten.
Australia lags behind other major economies when it comes to funding science. On the face of it, the national savings pool – our trillion dollar superannuation industry – seems a ready made solution to the challenge of creating new revenue streams.
At first glance, it seems like a good fit. Bill Shorten – responsible for superannuation at Cabinet level – neatly described the opportunity of the two industries working together as a prospective “grand bargain.”
However, the challenges are considerable. Mr Shorten admitted that “… the openness of superannuation to science (is) limited and science has not always been good at communicating its investment strengths.”
The problem is much bigger problem than that. It’s been a long time since we’ve had rain in the science funding desert.
As the new Science and Research Minister Chris Evans points out, when it comes to private sector investment, the figures here aren’t good.
Investment in university research by private companies is a paltry six per cent – lower than the US, Canada, Korea, China, Germany and the European Union as a whole.
Business spending on research and development is far worse than this – less than two per cent of revenue. And that’s taking into account the big money invested by resource companies chasing increased efficiencies in digging things up.
Despite coming off a low base, at least these two areas of investment are growing in real terms. Higher education research and business R&D budgets have grown annually by an average of 5.6 and 9 per cent, respectively.
As for publically funded scientific research, the drought continues. Despite claims of record investment, Government spending on science has not grown in real terms for almost a decade.
Scarcity of resources and the pressure to increase new revenue streams continues to fuel tension between applied and basic research, something we know only too well at CSIRO.
Encouraging a broader understanding and acceptance of research and innovations with investors is no bad thing, in and of itself.
Likewise, improved communication on the potential value of research to audiences that include potential investors, is broadly desirable.
However it remains to be seen if the trillions of dollars of Superannuation funds under management represent a genuine oasis in the science funding desert, or merely a mirage.
Science and Technology Australia – media release