Reports today that that the Turnbull Liberal Government is considering adopting a so-called research impact measurement reflect the flawed thinking of the Liberals, where prejudice against universities, not evidence, determines critical policy decisions.
The leak represents a return to the practice of the dysfunctional Abbott Government, where senior government ministers are leaking proposals, with no detail, that are still under active consideration by the Cabinet.
Labor supports stronger engagement between university research and industry, but any plan that tinkers around the edges, rather than dealing with the real impediments to greater industry-university collaboration, is doomed to failure.
And if the Government continues with its plan to cut funding to universities to cover the full cost of research the question remains: why would industry take up the slack?
The Turnbull Liberal Government’s plan ignores the biggest source of funding for industry engagement in research and development, the R&D Tax Incentive, which is worth more to Australia’s R&D effort then the combined value of direct funding to universities for research from the Commonwealth government – $2.9 billion versus $1.8 billion.
Malcolm Turnbull must also explain how his latest thought bubble will overcome the shortcomings of the impact measurement instrument, with all indicators suggesting this measure would do very little to fix Australia’s low level of industry and university collaboration.
The impact measurement instrument that the Government is considering was proposed in March by the Australian Academy of Technological Science and Engineering (ATSE) and has been heavily criticised as being too reliant on financial measures that cannot capture all university-business interactions.
If the plan is to redirect the amount of funding going to Australia’s most research intensive universities – often called the Group of Eight – then the plan will fail. Group of Eight universities receive more income from industry, not less, than other universities.
Given the complexities around how university research is funded, Malcolm Turnbull must guarantee that any changes do not perversely lead to less industry engagement with universities.