AUSTRALIA: The global research race

Many countries around the world are pressing ahead with building their research systems, even during the global recession, through economic stimulus measures that include targeted investments in research. They include the US and China, Norway, France and Germany.

The economic stimulus measures of different countries are over and above earlier initiatives to strengthen research capability in the light of accelerating international competition. Countries that are not keeping up with research-building, such as Australia, are in a vulnerable position.

Norway will increase capital in its Research and Innovation Fund by EUR685 million. The Norwegian government will create over 200 new research positions and increase the funding for each new research position to EUR90,000 to cover more of the associated costs. Of France's EUR26 billion economic stimulus package for 2009-10 some EUR731 million is to go towards the refurbishment of universities and research institutions.

Germany is investing EUR900 million in research and development commissioned by business. The federal government will be making available EUR450 million a year in 2009 and 2010 to medium-sized enterprises to help finance research projects. The Helmholtz Association will receive around EUR65 million from the German government's first economic stimulus package to invest in expanding and developing critical research infrastructure.

China's massive 10 trillion yuan stimulus package over 2009-11 includes major investments in science and technology, including "key research projects related to enlarging the domestic market", "scientific research for those technologies that are currently affecting the development of key industries", "the development of new hi-tech industries" (new energy, new materials, biotechnology and ICT), and platforms for sharing technological innovation and accelerating take-up by small and medium enterprises. There is a major injection of funding for the universities that China aims to be positioned eventually within the world's Top 10 universities.

The American Competitiveness Initiative, launched by President Bush in 2006, emphasised the centrality of research to the country's competitiveness, particularly in terms of cutting-edge basic research performed primarily by universities. Priority was given to doubling funding for innovation-enabling fundamental research over 10 years.

President Barack Obama's economic stimulus package as approved by the House and Senate in February 2009, provides additional funding of US$15.6 billion for higher education and research, including:

* $10.4 billion for the National Institutes of Health, for research that focuses on specific scientific challenges, new research that expands the scope of ongoing projects, research on public health priorities such as influenza, tuberculosis and malaria, stem cell research, and funds for shared instrumentation and capital research equipment.
* $3 billion for the National Science Foundation, for research activities ($2.5 billion) and major research instrumentation ($300 million) and modernisation of facilities ($200 million).
* $1 billion for NASA including earth science and climate research ($400 million), aeronautics ($150 million) and space exploration (400 million).
* $1.6 billion for research in climate science, biofuels, high-energy physics, nuclear physics and fusion energy sciences.
* $600 million for the National Institute of Science for research projects and capital works.

These various economic stimulus measures of different countries come on top of earlier initiatives to strengthen research capability in the light of accelerating international competition.

The Canadian Government has recognised "four foundational elements of research": the direct costs of research; the institutional costs of research; research infrastructure; and research talent. Between 1997 and 2007, federal investment in university research increased at an average annual rate of 11%, or 185% overall. Additionally Canadian provincial governments have been increasing their contributions through their research granting agencies, support for targeted research activities such as in health or agriculture, promotion of university-industry collaboration and technology transfer.

In 2000, the European Union launched the Lisbon Strategy, an initiative to make the EU the most competitive, knowledge-based economy in the world, largely through the creation of a European Research Area (ERA). A major element of ERA is the 7th Framework Programme disbursing EUR50.5 billion, a 40% increase over the 6th Framework Programme.

Another initiative is the establishment of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), approved by the European Parliament in March 2008, involving integrated public-private networks of universities, research organisations and business in Knowledge and Innovation Communities (KICs). In selecting the KICs early next year, the EIT will focus on sustainable energy, climate change and the information society.

The higher education landscape in France is rapidly changing. In response to a decline in international competitiveness the French Government is investing in competitive clusters. "The 10 'super-campuses', each an alliance of several higher education establishments and research organisations, will share EUR5 billion of state funding in a bid to fulfil the President's ambition for at least 10 French centres of excellence of higher education and research to rank among the world's top universities," according to University World News.

President Sarkozy on 22 January 2009 gave frank notice to the French research community to lift its game, describing its currently "weak", "inefficient" and "regressing" approach as "paralysing creativity and innovation", and announcing a far-reaching programme of independent evaluation of research seemingly modelled on the British Research Assessment Exercise.

Since 2005 the German government has increased annual investments in Research and Development by around EUR3 billion, from EUR9 billion to EUR12 billion in 2009. Germany's Excellence Initiative is the higher education element of the Pact for Research and Innovation. It aims to strengthen science and research in Germany in the long term, improve its international competitiveness and raise the profile of the top performers in academia and research.

The budget of EUR1.9 billion for the period 2006 through 2011 is divided into three categories of funding:

* EUR40 million per year will be spent in developing graduate schools, a new concept for German universities. In order to receive these funds universities must prove to the government that they provide doctoral students with an excellent research environment. A maximum of 40 graduate schools will share in this funding.
* A total of EUR195 million per year will be awarded to universities which can show they are internationally visible and competitive research and training institutions, cooperating with industry and other research institutes in particular fields-disciplines. Thirty clusters of excellence will be established.
* A maximum of 10 selected universities will share in extra funding of EUR210 million a year. These universities will have at least one excellence cluster, one research school and a convincing overall strategy outlining how they intend to emerge at the pinnacle of international research. Nine institutions have received extra funding as part of this emerging elite group of German universities to date.

The Asian Times Online reported in February 2006 that: "Under a central government programme started in 1998 called the 985 Project, nine of China's leading universities were given special three-year grants in excess of RMB1 billion yuan for quality improvements. Peking and Tsinghua universities, the top two ranked institutions in mainland China, each received 1.8 billion yuan. These grants were awarded in addition to special financial support provided by the 211 Project, a separate programme aimed at developing 100 quality universities for the 21st century.

The Ministry of Science and Technology of the People's Republic of China has also initiated several National Key Projects, including "a number of high-level national research bases established to upgrade the primary innovative capacity of the nation," the Ministry of Science and Technology reported.

In 2005, China became the third largest R&D spender worldwide after the US and Japan. In January 2006, China released a comprehensive 15-year science and technology plan to position China as "an innovation-oriented society by 2020 and a world leader in S&T by 2050". The plan involves expanding basic research, the development of new disciplines and interdisciplinary areas, and strategic research to support major national priorities. It also involves quadrupling annual R&D spending from RMB 236 billion in 2005 to RMB 900 billion by 2020.

China's five-year strategic plan for 2006-10 announced in April 2006 raised the target of developing S&T parks by 2010 to commercialise university research from 50 to 80 parks. In 2007, China's S&T expenditure reached RMB 100 billion, or 3.4% of public

India has only about 400 universities and 18,000 colleges to serve a population of 1.1 billion. Less than 12% of young people enter higher education. The government is aiming to raise the college-going rate to 21% by 2017. The Indian government intends to increase its higher education budget by 21%, to $2.79 billion, to help expansion of the university system.

India is not only widening tertiary education participation but also strengthening its capacity for excellence in research and research training. In 2008, the Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh, announced plans to start five new Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research, eight new Indian Institutes of Technology, seven new Indian Institutes of Management, and 20 new Indian Institutes of Information Technology - roughly doubling the number of top-tier institutions in the country. He also wants to set up a total of 16 universities in states that do not have one, plus 14 'world class' universities and almost 400 colleges.

What is required in today's world is research power: high capacity for high output volume of high quality. Australia needs to rise above the current preoccupation with the distributional equity of national resources for research and take steps to arrest an accelerating decline against the rising international benchmarks of research excellence.

* Michael Gallagher is Executive Director of the Group of Eight research universities in Australia.

* This article is based on extracts drawn from an address by Michael Gallagher. The full speech is titled "Australia's Research Universities and their Position in the World".