Still the Clever Country

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.

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.