The Group of Eight (Go8), representing Australia’s leading research-intensive universities, is pleased to have the invaluable opportunity to comment on the Joint Standing Committee on Trade and Investment Growth (JSCTIG) inquiry into the Australian Government’s approach to negotiating trade and investment agreements.
Please note that this submission represents the views of the Go8 network, and member universities may choose to make their own submissions.
The Go8 consents for this submission to be published in full.
At the outset, the Go8 is of the strong view that whilst trade and investment agreements are often seen (and negotiated) in a ‘transactional’ context, their value must not be underestimated when it comes to ensuring the robustness of our ‘knowledge’ trade.
The Go8 recognises the significant impact of these agreements on research and researcher agreements, and knows what they can deliver for an economy, its productivity and jobs growth.
They build upon our capacity to engage extensively with international partners, in our region, and around the world. There is no doubt that Government level agreements – such as economic partnerships and FTAs – provide a solid signal of Australia’s willingness to engage with the wider community. They facilitate the development of stronger relationships and in complex geopolitical times, they are a high-level symbol of Australia’s commitment to our regional partners.
Our globally ranked universities are an asset to be drawn upon, not ignored. They are central driver of Australia’s productivity.
The Go8 member universities:
- the top 100 universities in the world (according to the QS World University Rankings (QS)).
- For every $1 billion invested in Go8 university research, an estimated additional in-year economic output of $9.2 billion is generated across the rest of the Australian economy.
- Educate over 150,000 international students both on and offshore.
- Support more than 73,000 jobs in Australia through our international students.
- Generate $1 million in economic impact for every three Go8 international students.
As noted in previous submissions on individual Free Trade negotiations, this success reflects our extensive international connections, both within our region and around the globe.
International connections underpin higher education and research excellence in a number of ways:
- Facilitate research and academic connections between the top researchers and educators from around the globe, helping to accelerate the advancement of human knowledge and understanding;
- Support Australian engagement in key international policy conversations, such as through the Go8’s relationships with our counterpart organisations in the UK (Russell Group), US (Association of American Universities), Europe (League of European Research Universities), Canada (Universities 15), Germany (Universities 15), Japan (Research Universities 11), and the Association of East Asian Universities (AEARU); and
- Ensure a flow of international talent into Australia, in key areas of study, and ultimately workforce. The latest data from the Department of Education (DE) indicates that, in 2021, international citizens comprised 27% of all students in higher education, including 54% of students studying in the field of Information Technology, 38% of students in Engineering and Related Technologies and 28% of students in Architecture and Building – areas of critical skills shortages.
In this context, FTA Agreements are an important signal between two Governments of their willingness to engage.
RESPONSE TO THE CONSULTATION TERMS OF REFERENCE
- How the Australian Government develops a negotiating mandate and framework that factors in whole of government priorities;
- How priorities for States and Territory Governments, businesses, workers and other relevant stakeholders are considered and incorporated into a negotiating mandate; and
- The consultation process undertaken with interested parties, including representatives of industry and workers throughout the process
Research and innovation are the foundations of economic and industry success in an increasingly technologically driven 21st century.
The Go8 contends that trade deals that support ‘knowledge’ trade via Research and Development and Innovation can only help Australia in securing its place as global leader in these areas. In turn these ‘knowledge trade routes’ attract inward investment into Australia and support our capacity to develop and secure critical technologies with likeminded, values aligned countries.
Our research intensive universities must be part of early conversations during the development stages of FTA’s and are ready to work with government to ensure new and revised agreements build on Australia’s strategic advantage, particularly in areas such as critical minerals and green energy.
Underpinning ‘knowledge trade routes’ are people. FTA’s have a role to play in creating thepathways for increasing two way flow of talent, including greater PhD mobility.
The 2023 Australia-United Kingdom Free Trade Agreement
The 2023 Australia-United Kingdom Free Trade Agreement should be the template for all future agreements. For the first time ever a Trade Agreement included an ‘Innovation’ Chapter. The Go8 strongly supports this significant step change, which includes the recognition of universities within the Innovation Chapter as key collaborators in the innovation system, and the FTA’s commitment to further strengthen these collaborations.
As this was the first inclusion of an Innovation Chapter in an FTA, it comes as no surprise that there is much work to be done on the mechanisms for operationalisation. The Go8 looks forward to working with the Government to support the establishment of the Strategic Innovation Dialogue which we understand will be established in the next six months, and providing advice and assistance on operationalising the intent of the Innovation Chapter.
- The Go8 recommends that an Innovation Chapter be included in the negotiating mandate of ALL new FTA’s, and the refresh of existing Agreements. This will generate mutually beneficial opportunities for countries involved including:
- A strategic alliance on research and innovation: This could involve agreeing on a shared research agenda with priority topics based on shared national priorities, and the creation of bilateral funding programs.
- Student and researcher mobility: Facilitating and fast-tracking researcher exchange between the two countries would strengthen respective talent pipelines and reinforce cultural ties. For example, opportunities to enhance the two-way flow of postdoctoral researchers, leads to enhanced opportunities for engagement with industry.
- Commercialisation: Removing barriers and facilitating engagement between researchers and potential industry partners across the respective countries.
- Cutting bureaucracy: for example, through the development of shared IP and data sharing agreements through to joint opportunities to contribute to public procurement and minimising travel restrictions.
- The Go8 would welcome the opportunity to provide advice and insights on how research-intensive universities can support the aims of an Innovation Chapter, and identify new opportunities and barriers for consideration.
- The Go8 endorses the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Monthly Peak Bodies Deep Dive Series as an effective channel for providing updates and inviting questions from stakeholders on current FTA negotiations and other trade and investment priorities.
ENGAGEMENT BETWEEN AUSTRALIA AND EUROPE
The ongoing negotiation of an Australia-European Union FTA provides an opportunity to include an Innovation Chapter. Europe is a global leader in research and innovation. Indeed the European Commission has identified ‘Innovation’ as integral to many of its priorities, and ‘this means that a much greater effort is needed to create the ecosystems that encourage innovation, research and development (R&D), and entrepreneurship.’ However, in the absence of an FTA, and in parallel, Australia is very close to missing the opportunity to engage with Europe as a third country associate to Horizon Europe, the European Commission research and innovation funding program with a budget of €95.5 billion. The Go8, together with the European Australian Business Council, The AI Group and the Australian Academy of Science have jointly written to the Minister for Industry and Science, Hon Ed Husic, requesting that the Government reconsider the case for an association to Horizon Europe.
 Innovation Chapter 20-3(3).