Australia’s National Science Statement identifies three key leadership roles for government

The Australian government has released a ‘National Science Statement’ (NSS) for 2017, setting out a broad vision and strategic policy framework for science in Australia, and establishing whole‑of‑government principles for guiding decision making and providing a secure, stable and enduring foundation for Australian science.

A 2030 Strategic Plan for the the innovation, science and research system is expected to be released later this year by Innovation and Science Australia.

To achieve its vision for an Australian society engaged in and enriched by science, the government has identified three key leadership roles:

  •           Supporting science by providing funding and other resources for the spectrum of basic to applied scientific research, critical scientific infrastructure and equipment, and science and mathematics education, directly investing in Australia’s future.                              
  •           Participating in science by producing, using and sharing research, data and information, operating scientific research infrastructure and engaging with science internationally.                              
  •           Enabling science by setting institutional arrangements that shape the science system and its interactions with business and the community, including the translation of research into economic and other benefits.                              

Australia’s ranks 15th out of 33 among OECD countries plus China, Taiwan and Singapore in terms of overall investment in R&D (GERD) as a percentage of GDP. The government’s investment in science, research and innovation has grown from AU$6.6 billion in 2006–07 to AU$10.1 billion in 2016–17. In addition, the government has made several significant longer‑term commitments, including AU$2.3 billion over 10 years to support research infrastructure through the National Innovation and Science Agenda and the $20 billion Medical Research Future Fund, which will begin dispersing funding in 2017.

According to the statement, the government is the key individual funder of research in Australia, supporting most blue‑sky and investigator‑driven research, providing funding for research infrastructure, and supporting universities and publicly funded research agencies. The government will ensure that support across the spectrum of basic to applied research is stable and predictable.

Image: Figure 1, National Science Statement

The government will continue to set strategic direction and priorities for Australian science through coordination and governance arrangements such as the National Science and Research Priorities (Advanced Manufacturing, Environmental Change, Health, Food, Soil & water, Transport, Cyber Security, Energy and Resources). In conjunction with advice from the Chief Scientist and bodies such as the Commonwealth Science Council and Innovation and Science Australia, this will help shape research.

The Statement identifies Australia eighth ranking among OECD+ economies (OECD countries plus China, Taiwan, and Singapore) in terms of share of the world’s top 1% of natural science and engineering publications as a strength. It goes on to highlight room for improvements in  the translation of publicly funded research into commercial outcomes. While 22.8% of innovation‑active Australian businesses collaborate with competitors and other businesses, only 4.8%collaborate with a university or publicly funded research institution.

The other area of concern is declining participation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects in Australian schools, with enrolments in these subjects at the lowest level in 20 years. The National STEM School Education Strategy 2016–2026 is taking action to lift foundational skills in STEM learning areas in partnership with states and territories and facilitating effective partnerships with tertiary education providers, business and industry.

Read Australia’s National Science Statement here.

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