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Election media statement from Group of Eight – Australia’s consistently leading research-intensive universities

Australia’s universities are critical to all aspects of our nation’s future economic prosperity and social well-being. Put bluntly, no Government can, or will, get where it wants to go for the nation without backing creation of new graduates and new knowledge.

The vital role research-intensive universities play in terms of boosting productivity, commercialising R&D, delivering life-saving medical research, and educating the next generation of Australians so we prosper in an increasingly complex geopolitical environment is unparalleled. 

Group of Eight Chief Executive Vicki Thomson said “It is our universities which will deliver the quality and quantum required for a more sovereign nation of doctors, engineers, lawyers, surveyors, paramedics, dentists, or graduates in AI, Space, quantum computing and critically in all areas of national security and defence, which includes cyber security. 

“These professionals take many years to educate and doing it well doesn’t come cheap. So, when universities (which are not for profit operations) ask for better funding for education, we are asking for an investment in our families’ and our nation’s future wellbeing. Never in this post COVID recovery world, with geopolitical damage showing on our screens 24/7, has our universities’ worth been so apparent and so needed.

“The 2022 Federal election provides the opportunity for elected decision-makers to put universities front and centre of Government strategy to meet the obvious challenges that lie ahead.

“COVID has underscored the importance of building sovereign capacity, exposed weaknesses and threats across sectors and highlighted the need for more graduates to meet our needs – graduates we do not currently have. Nor do we currently have adequate funding to educate them.

“When political parties travel the nation offering up billions in infrastructure projects, the workforce requirements to be met are part of the true cost of these projects. 

“Unfortunately, Australia is already facing many critical skills shortages in a number of areas central to growth: engineering, professional services, health, AI, cybersecurity, logistics and procurement. 

“The Go8 asks that an incoming government adopt a Sovereign Capability Charter to ensure essential current and future skills, supply chains and research capacity are accounted for as a matter of course. The success of the major projects Australia needs will only be achieved by working hand in hand with the nation’s research-intensive universities.”

The Go8 is also calling for a review of the research funding model for Australian universities which looks at the full economic cost of research and a strong commitment to the future funding of fundamental research.

This is an investment in our future.  A 2018 report by London Economics found that the Go8 had an annual economic impact to the Australian economy of $66.4 billion each year. Every $1 of Go8 research income delivers almost $10 in benefits to the wider community.

In 2018 -19 total government investment in university R&D as a proportion of GDP was the lowest in 40 years. This trend must be reversed. Australia must set a target to increase by 2030 to at least OECD levels[1] its overall or gross expenditure on R&D (GERD), currently at its lowest level since 2004-5.

“Failure to do so represents a failure for the future prosperity of this nation, and to those young Australians who may not be able to contribute here in Australia to their full potential,” said Ms Thomson.

“Australia’s research-intensive universities are at the forefront of research, innovation and technology – seven of our universities are ranked in the top 100 globally. Each and every day our researchers, scientists and innovators tackle the big challenges that make our nation stronger, improve the lives of every Australian and secure our nation’s future.”

The Go8 therefore states that Australia’s incoming government should, at a minimum, commit to:

Securing Australia’s skilled workforce:

  • A doubling of the supply of domestically educated engineers for nation building projects for our future.
  • Increasing Commonwealth Supported Places for medical students by at least 1000 over four years. Australia’s medical workforce has been significantly challenged by the demands of COVID. The population is growing older, and faster than expected; rural and regional areas must have more medical practitioners. We must build our sovereign capacity.

Group of Eight (Go8) universities undertake 70 per cent of Australian university research activity and graduate 110,000 students each year, including more than 60 per cent of medical and 42 per cent of engineering graduates.

Investment in research:

The Go8 is calling for a review of the research investment into Australian universities. It must be one that looks at the full economic cost of research and a strong commitment to funding fundamental research. 

As stated early in this Statement, this is an investment in educating people and their work – future skills and future graduates, future researchers and their research teams and the result is:  a more sovereign and capable nation with better living standards.

Failure to do this represents a failure not just to universities, but to the future prosperity of our nation, and to those young Australians who may not be able to reach their full potential if they choose to stay onshore rather than emigrate to countries who value their skills more than their home country.

Translation and Commercialisation of Research:

Importantly, and in tandem with the above, the translation and commercialisation of Australia’s world class university research is key to the nation’s growth and prosperity. It is university research which leads to advances in everything from communications, to building materials, to solar panels, to medical procedures and medicines.

The research undertaken in Australia’s leading research-intensive universities is renowned globally for changing and saving lives. Australia has output is comparable to the most world-renowned institutions but with targeted funding support our universities can do even better.

If that does not occur, Australia will fail to realise its potential while other nations will leave us behind and exposed.

Contact: Vicki Thomson, Group of Eight Chief Executive on +61 417 808 472

[1] Australia’s GERD was at 1.79% of GDP in 2019-20, corresponding to OECD’s average of 2.51% of GDP. The 0.72% gap is the widest since OECD records from 1990 (https://data.oecd.org/rd/gross-domestic-spending-on-r-d.htm and https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/industry/technology-and-innovation/research-and-experimental-development-businesses-australia/latest-release#gross-expenditure-on-r-d-gerd-).