Monday, August 09, 2010

Powering Ideas: Robbing Peter to Pay Paul?

Powering Ideas: Robbing Peter to Pay Paul?

What is the role of individual research organisations in the national innovation system?


First I note the whirlwinds of political intrigue surrounding the personages and required readings of this our first week of discussion on the innovation fleet of Australia. The plight of Horatio Nelson and the Battle of Trafalgar appear picturesque by comparison.

Enter Terry Cutler well seated at Melbourne and the CISRO Board of Directors quickly detailing his definition of "the coalition of the willing" describing commercialisation of research to be a "misguided focus" better suited to business than university research programs in this interview with Gerhard Vorster and Deloitte. His aim of reaching the first 25% quartile of all OECD innovation measures in the next decade based on the 2020 Conference seems occupied with positioning and ranking in international statistics from competitor nations that may or may not over or underestimate their innovation spending. His own recommendations total an estimated 3 billion dollars of tax payer-fronted debt something it appears Australia had minimized during the Howard administration according to Chart Seven State Net Debt in Dimarco, Pirie and Au-Yeung.

Dr. Denise Bradley also resides in nearby South Australia with a long history at UniSA but now a ready government employee and most recently appointed to the Chair of TEQSA - Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency a new level of toothy government oversight recommended in her own landmark Review of Australian Higher Education.

Like-minded but elected Senator and member of ruling Australia Labour Party Kim Carr is a former teacher and Minister of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research. His website details several South Australia highlighted initiatives based on Powering Ideas and his government is now led by Ms. Julia Gillard resident of South Australia, former Minister of Education, former socialist and former Deputy Prime Minister under the tragic leadership of the Brisbane-based resigned fluently Mandarin Kevin Rudd. This sine quo non resulted in his ownership of the "Resource Super Profits Tax" proposal to be levied on Australia's top two export trade sectors the proceeds possibly earmarked to pay for the innovation renovation of the third sector based on the proposals of Cutler, Bradley, Carr and the Group of Eight study " Adding to Australia's Capacity" authors unknown but surmised to resemble a "Band of Brothers and Sisters." The latest Minister of Education Crean another resident of Victoria career politician-union stalwart appears to be under-reporting educational reforms limited to PCs in every high school classroom in his latest radio interview. It is also evident that the socialists have definitely turned against P.M. Gillard.

What is the role of individual research organisations in the national innovation system?

The report Powering Ideas does not specifically detail the role of individual research organisations in the national innovation system other than participation in and compliance with what appears "top down" style managerial reform proposals. In the introduction mention is made of increased science and innovation budgets, with a 25% increase from 2009 to 2010 detailing a declining productivity and reduced spending since 1993-94 coinciding with the last Labour Party government of Paul Keating.

The National Innovation Priorities listed seem to coincide with campaign promises made by Kevin Rudd while mention is made that the duties of universities and public research domains remain the provision of knowledge and skilled workforces rather than any commercialisation of research. This in line with Cutler's admission that research commercialisation be made a dirty word. Their contribution is listed to include propagating an increase in the numbers of internationally benchmarked research groups, organize more vigorous industry research partnerships, form more collaborative team research projects across institutions, gather project financing from the Education Investment Fund detailing several recent disbursements already in its third round, and conforming to well detailed business and public sector innovation initiatives such as increasing business engagement by 25% and developing better policy direction and improvement decisions management by 2020.

Individual research organisations are expected to participate in increased collaboration efforts to realize a doubling effect over the next ten years which would require approximately 7% growth per year to 2020. However as the report details on page 20 the rate of R & D spending growth is already 8% a year thus the doubling effect of such a growth rate suggests the 2020 goal in research funds increases may be reached in 7.5 years or 2017 second quarter rather than 2020. This might prove a useful incentive to suggest the innovation renovation platform in Powering Ideas is simply political.

For example, the OECD estimates of 2.5% of GDP in countries like Korea may be accurate but the oversight accountability and transparency of such funds dispersal and application results may be difficult or impossible to trace. This is also the dilemma often faced by sales agents in many corporations who require boosts in sales figures to justify performance based review while undermining actual profit earnings through negotiated concessions and other tax breaks to secure deals which might provide a lower level of actual net benefits to funds spent. Might the same not be said for funding future collaborations?

For example, while CISRO basks in profit earnings based on patent royalties certain of our required readings recommend universities and individual research organisations dispense with intellectual property protections which copyright and patent laws allow for more open source and knowledge transfer benefits to reduce the estimated 30% of funded research conducted in duplicate. One cannot hope to implement a national research policy based on the successes of only one research organisation and at that expect the followers to give up their golden gooses/geese. Especially if the benchmarked leader has yet to do so. Where would the lauded cochlear bionic ear be if it had not been a patented and rights protected innovation?

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