clever-country-banner

Science and research and development (R&D) are essential to Australia’s economic progress and central to a fairer, healthier, safer and greener world. Our scientists are a national asset and absolutely fundamental to building and maintaining Australia’s status as a clever country as we move from largely resource and manufacturing-driven growth toward a knowledge-based economy.

Our status as a clever country is however not a given. It requires policymakers to acknowledge that science and R&D is at the heart of any economic strategy based on innovation and productivity improvement. If we’re to compete with others in our region and globally, we need to invest in our current and future capability including the science and R&D workforce.

To do this, we need to understand emerging industries as well as both labour market demand for, and trends and patterns in the supply of, science professionals – this will be essential for informing policy. The question of skills gaps and shortages in science is a difficult one. While some argue there’s an oversupply, others argue that while there are no current shortages we need to build capacity and/or preparedness because of the long lead time required to train highly-skilled specialist professionals. There appears to be scope for research to be undertaken in partnership with industry in this area and for stakeholders to then collaborate on a workforce development plan to take science and R&D into the next decade.

Welcome to Professional Scientists Australia’s Still the Clever Country? campaign.

The Still the Clever Country? report sets out some of the key concerns of professional scientists based on a survey of over 500 members – and its sister publication Realising Innovation through Science and R&D is the blueprint we developed for dealing with some of the key issues at the workplace and structural levels.

Now more than ever, we need to understand that investment in science, engineering and technology is a predictor of national innovative capability and productivity into the future.
As it stands, there is no central oversight of science policy in Australia. While the absence of a science minister could provide an opportunity to take account of the spread of science and technology across a broad range of policy domains, there’s also a danger that policy will become fragmented and lack coherence. An informed strategically-driven vision for science and innovation in Australia is vital.

Professional Scientists Australia acknowledges the challenges in balancing fiscal responsibility and supporting science and R&D. This being said, we hold the firm view that our future as a science and innovation leader should be driven by strategy not finance. Suggesting that Australia simply cannot afford to spend more on science and innovation – and cutting funding without understanding the capabilities being lost – is false economy at its worst.

Growing a science and technology workforce with the STEM and other capabilities needed to drive innovation, productivity improvement and global competitiveness over the next decade will require stable, strategic and sustainable investment in science and R&D and the development of world-class infrastructure to support it.

It is critical that we position Australia now for a future as a science and innovation leader.

Our key messages to political leaders are…

  • Properly funding science is central to the federal Government’s commitment to innovation as a key driver of economic growth and increasing our competitiveness in the global economy.
  • Under-investment in public science and R&D is a false economy which reduces our
  • innovative capability and potential for economic growth.
  • A vibrant and sustainable STEM workforce is essential to virtually every goal we have as a nation.
  • Government needs to adopt a long-term strategic framework for science and the science workforce.
  • Deprofessionalisation drives down standards – a failure to maintain professional standards results in compromised quality and risk to the community and increased liabilities for business and government.
  • Governments have a responsibility to act in the interests of the wider public in terms of safety, public health and the public interest. Budgeting and policy-making need to operate from a cost base which protect this position and recognise the importance of professional qualifications and professional standards.
  • Public support of science and engineering research is an investment that generates
  • economic growth and encourages concurrent business investment.
  • Investment in science must be at the very least maintained for Australia to remain internationally competitive.

Still the Clever Country?

Click below to read the survey report to Still the Clever Country?

on Issuu – http://issuu.com/scientists/docs/still_the_clever_country_web

as a pdf – Still the Clever Country?

Realising Innovation Through Science and R&D

Click below to read the supplementary report to Still the Clever Country?

on Issuu – http://issuu.com/scientists/docs/realising_innovation_through_scienc

as a pdf – Realising Innovation Through Science and R&D

An open letter to the Prime Minister of Australia, the Hon. Tony Abbott MP from Professionals Australia

Dear Prime Minister,

Professionals Australia represents several thousand science and technology-based professionals nationally. Our members are uniquely placed to ensure science and research and development (R&D) play the central role they should in driving the government’s economic strategy of advancing our innovative capability, improving productivity and investing in emerging industries as we transition to a knowledge-based economy.

We acknowledge the challenges facing our political leaders in developing policy for science and R&D to take us through to 2020 and beyond. We recognise the high rate of change in science and R&D, the number of agencies involved in science-related areas, the spread of science and R&D across a broad range of policy domains and the multitude of funding and collaborative arrangements in place for science and R&D providers internationally, across federal and state government, industry and multiple disciplines within universities.

While we acknowledge the challenges, we hold the firm view that policy should be driven by long-term strategy and see the very real dangers of under-investment in the name of fiscal responsibility.

It is clear that a range of critical questions currently face the science community and the nation more broadly … what level of public investment in our science and R&D workforce will adequately and reliably support an improved science and innovation capability and maintain our reputation for scientific endeavour? How do we encourage business investment in R&D? How do we find the right balance between industry-driven and blue skies research? How do we attract and develop the next generation of science professionals? What are the consequences when false economy drives decision-making rather than strategy in relation to the science workforce? Fundamentally, what kind of support, structures and practices will be necessary to allow us to meet the economic challenges we face?

What level of public investment in our science and R&D workforce will adequately and reliably support an improved science and innovation capability and maintain our reputation for scientific endeavour?

How do we encourage business investment in R&D? How do we find the right balance between industry-driven and blue skies research? How do we attract and develop the next generation of science professionals? What are the consequences when false economy drives decision-making rather than strategy in relation to the science workforce? Fundamentally, what kind of support, structures and practices will be necessary to allow us to meet the economic challenges we face?

What level of public investment in our science and R&D workforce will adequately and reliably support an improved science and innovation capability and maintain our reputation for scientific endeavour?

Properly funding science and R&D is central to the Federal Government’s commitment to innovation as a key driver of economic growth and increasing our competitiveness in the global economy. Under-investment in public science and R&D is a false economy which reduces our innovative capability and potential for economic growth.

We are extremely concerned at the cuts to Federal Government agencies announced in the Budget. It is our view that the decision to reduce funding to CSIRO, DSTO, the CRC program, ARC, ANSTO and the Australian Institute of Marine Sciences reverses the longstanding bipartisan support of science and R&D with potentially dire consequences. Now more than ever, we need to understand that investment in science, engineering and technology at the structural level is a predictor of national innovative capability and productivity into the future.

What are the consequences when false economy drives decision-making rather than strategy in relation to the science workforce?

One of the greatest risks of cost-cutting in science is deprofessionalisation. Deprofessionalisation is the systematic deskilling of professional positions. It is a process which occurs in a workplace or industry when non-qualified or less-qualified individuals are used to perform work which is more properly performed by appropriately qualified individuals.

Deprofessionalisation:

• drives down standards – a failure to maintain professional standards results in compromised quality and risk to the community and increased liabilities for business and government; and

• is a key threat to a viable and sustainable science and R&D workforce.

Deprofessionalisation is very often a direct consequence of cost-cutting. The funding of science needs to operate from a cost base which recognises the importance of professional qualifications and protects professional standards, ensures quality and minimises risk to the community, business and government. We are concerned that the Budget cuts will act as a catalyst for further deprofessionalisation of the science workforce.

How do we encourage business investment in R&D?

Research shows that public support of science brings with it business investment in research and improved rates of commercialisation. Australia has one of the lowest levels of government support for business R&D in the world with Australia’s commitment to business R&D at just 0.09 per cent compared to 0.22 and 0.14 per cent by the US and UK Governments respectively.

Professionals Australia is committed to a policy approach which encourages greater business investment in science and R&D, brings industry and academia together, supports the move toward a greater number of researchers collaborating with and working in industry and more effective translation of discoveries into products and services to take to market. We are concerned at the lack of investment in the Budget that would support such practices in science and R&D.

How do we find the right balance between industry-driven and blue skies research?

We are concerned that the proposed $20 billion Medical Research Future Fund will discourage pure or curiosity-driven research where “real world” applications are not immediately apparent but may yield unanticipated scientific breakthroughs.

How do we attract, develop and support the next generation of science professionals?

Attraction of the next generation to STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) courses is a key demographic challenge for Australia – will the supply of STEM graduates be sufficient for our science and technology needs in the future? A vibrant and sustainable STEM workforce is essential to virtually every goal we have as a nation.

Figures released by Universities Australia show that the cuts to funding in the form of fee deregulation announced in the Budget are likely to result in an increase in tuition fees for STEM students of 58 per cent. This compares to an average increase in tuition fees across disciplines of around 26 per cent. We are concerned that the proposed changes to university fee structures and interest to be charged on debt are likely to act as disincentives to ensuring a pipeline of scientists which form the basis of our STEM workforce. A committed, coordinated and strategic approach to investing in STEM education are critical issues for Australia as we look to our future as a modern knowledge-based economy.

Fundamentally, what kind of support, structures and practices will be necessary to allow us to meet the economic challenges we face?

A sustainable and vibrant STEM workforce is the centrepiece of all knowledge-based economies. The Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE) suggests that 75 per cent of the fastest-growing occupations require well-developed STEM skills and knowledge. STEM skills are critical not only for core-STEM occupations but also for ensuring tertiary graduates are able to meet the demands of increasingly technology-intensive roles across industry. ATSE’s projections also show that STEM-based employment will grow at almost twice the pace of other occupations, and that currently 26 per cent of employers have difficulty recruiting STEM skilled professionals and managers. Professionals Australia is concerned that without a committed, coordinated and strategic approach to investing in our STEM workforce we simply won’t have the STEM capabilities needed to face current and future economic challenges.

Professionals Australia looks forward to working toward the development of policy initiatives with government and industry to help build our STEM capability, and workforce strategies at both the structural and enterprise levels to foster a skilled and responsive workforce that can best support innovation and in turn productivity improvement, global competitiveness and economic growth for Australia into the future.

Chris Walton, CEO, Professionals Australia
Robyn Porter, President, Professional Scientists Australia

Details of report launch to be announced shortly

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

We are currently organising an event in Canberra to launch the Professional Scientists Australia report Still the Clever Country? The event will take place in September/October. Further details as they become available …

Latest News