Canberra to universities: be our commercialisation kingpins

Tens of millions of dollars on offer for institutions that walk their commercialisation talk

November 24, 2021
Source: iStock

Australian universities will compete for funds under the first tranche of the federal government’s research commercialisation plan.

Universities have been invited to apply for A$50 million (£27 million) each to establish one of four “research and industry hubs” championing breakthroughs in “critical national manufacturing priorities” in areas including defence, space, clean energy, resources, food, beverages and medical products.

The “Trailblazer Universities” initiative is the first programme to emerge from a policy drive to boost the commercial returns from university research – education minister Alan Tudge’s priority for the sector.

“Our universities punch above their weight on pure basic research but lag in transforming research into breakthrough ideas, products and new businesses,” Mr Tudge said. “We want our universities to play a bigger role in our economy, working hand-in-glove with Australian businesses to develop the next generation of great Australian products and companies.

“I am calling for expressions of interest from universities that are hungry to take research and convert it into commercial opportunities.”

Siemens Australia chief executive Jeff Connolly, who chairs the government’s research commercialisation task force, said its recommendations had been informed by a rigorous consultation process.

“This is the first in a series of complementary measures that will contribute to an environment that focuses university research activity towards the goal of commercialisation and national economic benefit,” Mr Connolly said.

Representative group Universities Australia welcomed the money but expressed a desire for more contextual information. “Universities have been working closely with government as they develop a research commercialisation plan, and we understand this announcement is part of that,” said chief executive Catriona Jackson. “We look forward to seeing further details of this initiative, as well as the government’s full research commercialisation plan.”

The details appear likely to be released piecemeal, with the government now on an election footing. “This is the first initiative of the Morrison government’s research commercialisation agenda, with further announcements made in coming weeks,” says a joint statement from prime minister Scott Morrison and several of his ministers.

“We’re putting our best minds to the task,” Mr Morrison said. “We’re focusing our researchers and business leaders on Australia’s national priorities to help secure our economic recovery.”

The government will consider expressions of interest for the new funding between November and January, before assessing more detailed business cases from shortlisted applicants between January and March. At least one regional university will be among the four institutions selected as “innovation trailblazers”, according to regionalisation minister Bridget McKenzie.

Applicants will be assessed on their “commercialisation readiness”, “industry alignment” and “research capability to support a national manufacturing priority” – attributes most Australian universities already lay claim to.

The funding, allocated over four years, can be used to bankroll staff recruitment, commercialisation training, research infrastructure and new courses and industry partnerships.

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