By DAVID MYTON
The Government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda has copped its share of flak during its lifetime (viz: “whimsical cash-splash for inner-city hipsters”) but there it still is, chugging along, funnelling not a little of its $1.1 billion in the direction of highered.
One of the NISA’s core aims is to change incentives so that more university funding is allocated to research done in partnership with industry.
Arthur Sinodinos, Minister for Innovation and Science, says he has a particular focus on promoting collaboration between researchers, industry and government – in other words, the Feds are big on applied research and have been since then industry minister Ian Mcfarlane told us so back in 2015.
(If you want to read why some people think funding basic research is more important, check out Les Rymer’s ‘In defence of basic research’ in the Go8 News for March.)
An interesting aspect of the Government’s research direction is the Australian Research Council Linkage project, to which it has applied a little innovative tweak: In the past projects were announced according to an annual timetable but last November the government moved to continual assessment, to encourage industry-university collaboration.
Under this, the ARC will fast track high, and low, ranked applications to allow winners to start working without waiting on assessment of all other applications.
The scheme provides project funding of $50,000 to $300,000 per year for two to five years – with matching cash and in-kind contributions provided by their Partner Organisations.
Education Minister Simon Birmingham announced the first of the new-look ARC Linkage projects back in January, saying the scheme “supports our researchers to work with innovators outside the traditional research sector to find solutions to real-world problems and improve the translation of research into broader outcomes for businesses and the community”.
In the first tranche the University of Wollongong and five partners were awarded $675,000 for a project to improve extend the life of railway tracks by improving stability; while University of Queensland, with partners including BHP Billiton, Newcrest Mining and Santos, received $1.2m for three grants to boost productivity in minerals extraction and processing.
In February the Minister announced $4.9 million for another 11 research Linkage projects which included:
The University of Melbourne working with the Reserve Bank of Australia to develop anti-counterfeiting features for future Australian banknotes; and Melbourne Water Corporation to develop a program to prevent waterborne diseases in drinking water;
University of Queensland researchers working with Eden Innovations to develop lighter and stronger plastics for manufacturing applications;
University of Tasmania collaborating with Young Optics to develop high speed, high fidelity 3D printing that will provide manufacturing with unprecedented capability;
Curtin University of Technology creating a partnership with the Road Safety Commission, Alzheimer’s Australia and other partners to investigate the impact of mild dementia on driving performance.
Just recently Minister Birmingham announced another wave of rolling linkage grants for more practical projects.
In this round Allan Pring from Flinders University received $485,000 to work with BHP Billiton and the Museum of South Australia on extracting copper from now uneconomic low grade ore; Huanting Wang from Monash University received $469,000 for a project involving Coal Energy Australia and Nanjing Industrial Technology Research Institute to develop a membrane to treat waste water and for desalination and purification; and Dr Monika Doblin from the University of Melbourne, in partnership with biopharmaceutical company Under the Tree, was awarded $466,000 to improve yields of therapeutically-active cannabinoids.
All of the above is solid applied research in action and the kind of thing likely to appeal to taxpayers: they can at least see their money being put to good use.
And hardly a hipster in sight either.