19 April 2011

Targeting CRCs is targeting economy

Several metropolitan newspapers carried unattributed speculation yesterday and today that "senior ministers are targeting industry assistance and research programs, including the $650 million Co-operative Research Centre scheme, for major savings."

Professor Tony Peacock, CEO of the Cooperative Research Centres Association, responded on ABC radio saying that he "wished the CRC Program was $650 million".

"Whoever is backgrounding the media obviously doesn't understand the program, which is currently about $180 million from the Federal government, not $650 million. In fact, every Federal Government dollar draws industry funds to Cooperative Research Centres and that is exactly the policy outcome the Government wished to achieve. The industry proportion of CRC budgets has grown steadily over the life of the CRC Program, in contrast to industry participation in other research programs.

Australia needs an increasingly innovative industry sector. The Cooperative Research Centres Program has been reviewed more extensively than most Federal Government programs, and economic analysis has shown every Federal Government dollar into the CRC Program has a positive impact on GDP. The CRC Program has already reduced severely, and current budget speculation of a further cut to the Program is very disappointing.

"Australia's industry research sector is vital for developing new knowledge jobs and keeping Australia competitive" said Professor Peacock. "Innovation has a direct impact on productivity. Australia's productivity has flat-lined for a decade and the very high Australian dollar means it is even more important than ever to keep industry innovating".

Cooperative Research Centres represent less than 2% of the Australian Government's spending on innovation (2010 Budget figures)

Award of a Cooperative Research Centre is extremely competitive. In the 2010 funding round, four of 30 applications were awarded funding (and none funded to the level proposed), a success rate of 13%. "The Australian Research Council and NH&MRC say that researchers disengage at a success rate lower than 20%" said Professor Peacock. "It would be a major breach of faith with industry if the 2011 funding round was cut in any way given the Government conducted a national roadshow in January and February encouraging companies to become involved in bidding for a CRC. Dozens of funding applications are in preparation around Australia involving many companies as well as national and international research agencies".

There are currently 42 Cooperative Research Centres with two new Centres due to open 1 July (Mental Health CRC and the CRC for Young People, Technology and Wellbeing). Because CRCs do not receive ongoing funding, approximately 14 are due to shut down mid-2012. Even without a budget cut, it is likely there are only sufficient funds available for perhaps 3-6 new CRCs in the 2011 funding round.

Australian Government funding of the Cooperative Research Centre Program. Funding has dropped significantly since the end of the "Backing Australia's Ability" program.

Source: CRC media release

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