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Acton Institute publishes "Institutions in National Research Systems: A Comparative Analysis"

Dr John H Howard

This study examines the institutional settings for research systems in Australia, Canada, Germany, Israel, South Korea, the UK, and the USA, focusing on their interaction with innovation ecosystems and with the broader innovation ecosystem. 

The report finds that Australia's research system is heavily influenced by the higher education system. Over the years, higher education research has been increasing while business investment in R&D has been falling.

The absence of global research-intensive companies with an R&D presence in Australia presents a major obstacle to increasing business R&D. Small to medium companies are making commitments to R&D and working closely with universities in experimental development. Venture-backed startups rarely invest in R&D, relying on R&D undertaken in universities and public research organizations.

The proportion of higher education research in the national R&D effort has been between 25-35% in Australia, Canada, and the UK—countries that inherited the British system of cabinet government and individual Ministerial responsibility. The approach to public research funding in these countries is an aggregative "bottom-up" style, with no long-term national research strategy and low R&D to GDP proportions.

In Germany, Israel, and the USA, higher education contribution to national R&D is much less, in the 10-20% range. A greater proportion of research funding is allocated to public research agencies, institutes, and laboratories. These countries reflect different public administration traditions and have a national research foundation that takes a cross-government approach to public R&D investment.

It is unclear whether institutional arrangements for funding public research affect national R&D performance, productivity improvement, and economic growth.

Compared to other countries, the Australian research system leans heavily towards life sciences research, which is beneficial for national human health outcomes and global university rankings. However, there are downside aspects: The system requires greater recognition of the critical roles of information and computing sciences and engineering research as the economy transforms into new industry structures.

The report argues for a greater balance in public research investment between higher education and government research investment in national research institutes and laboratories. It also argues for new forms of collaborative research organisations between higher education, government research and industry—beyond the CRC model.

Institutions in National Research Systems Abridged June 2024
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