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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. Scott Morrison MP from Professional Scientists Australia

Dear Prime Minister,

Firstly, congratulations on the re-election of your Government in May 2019. We are keen to work with you to provide continuity in policy-making and that scientists have a voice in deciding and providing an evidence-base for the future direction of policy.

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, creating jobs 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 2030 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 attract and develop the next generation of science professionals? How do we encourage business investment in R&D? How do we find the right balance between industry-driven and blue sky research? How do we attract and develop the next generation of science professionals? How do we ensure the higher education system delivers the skills needed by industry and the research sector. Fundamentally, what kind of support, structures and practices will be necessary to allow us to meet the economic challenges we face and what role can science play in meeting those challenges?

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 driving 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 support an R&D target of 3% of GDP by 2030. Australia currently invests 1.88 per cent of GDP in research and development – well below the OECD average of 2.38 per cent.

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

We remain extremely concerned at the cuts to Federal Government agencies that arose from the 2014 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 at that time reversed the longstanding bipartisan support of science and R&D with potentially dire consequences. Since the 2014 Abbott cuts, one in five science jobs in public agencies have been lost. 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.

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.

With the widespread introduction of artificial intelligence and automation, deprofessionalisation is a very real possibility in many science workplaces. Technology should be seen as a tool to support science professionals in the workplace, not as a substitute for them. Where they are not seen in this way, the quality and safety of the services is compromised. 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.

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. The latest figures showing that OECD records also show a decline in business investment in R&D for the first time since records have been maintained.

Professional Scientists 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.

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

Attraction of the next generation to STEM 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.

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. Professional Scientists 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.

MRFF

While the MRFF completed its successful passage through Parliament in 2015 providing a significant boost for Australia’s health and medical research sector, there is a strong consensus that ongoing reform in the health and medical research institute sector is needed in the areas of funding, skills and gender equity. Policy-settings need to be adjusted to incentivise commercialisation, fully fund the costs of research, provide better access to vital research equipment, ensure systemically-entrenched gender disadvantage is addressed, simplify grant application processes and ensure grant terms help attract and retain skilled researchers and ensure workforce sustainability for the sector. We highlighted these issues in our landmark industry survey report, the 2016 consultation and since. We look forward to seeing indexation of MRFF funding indexed to CPI until fully funded in 2023.

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
Katie Havelberg and Steve Long, Vice-Presidents, Professional Scientists Australia