Federal government pins manufacturing hopes on uni hubs

By Melissa Coade

Friday November 26, 2021

Siemens Australia Chairman and CEO Jeff Connolly
Siemens Australia Chairman and CEO Jeff Connolly (left), seen in 2018, will chair the taskforce. (AAP Image/Dan Peled)

The government has announced four new research and industry hubs to ‘develop the technologies, products and businesses’ that will help address the nation’s future challenges.

A total of $242.7 million will be committed under the federal Trailblazer Universities initiative, with the hubs focusing on defence, space, resources technology, food and beverage, clean energy and medical products, respectively. Each hub theme has been identified as a national priority area in the government’s Modern Manufacturing Strategy

Prime minister Scott Morrison issued a statement on Wednesday together with three other ministers whose portfolios are relevant to the initiative. He said the ‘best minds’ would be put to the task of leading the hubs, with universities now invited to competitively apply for $50 million over four years to build their commercialisation capacity and $8 million in CSIRO specialist support through their proven Test Labs. 

“We’re focusing our researchers and business leaders on Australia’s national priorities to help secure our economic recovery.

“The Trailblazer Universities will be a platform for our best researchers to find business partners, invest in entrepreneurs and achieve extraordinary results for the country,” Morrison said. 

Siemens Australia CEO Jeff Connolly is the chair of the government’s research commercialisation taskforce. He said the Trailblazer Universities fund was the first of a series of research commercialisation agenda items yet to be revealed and was a taskforce recommendation, informed by rigorous consultation.

“This is the first in a series of complementary measures that will contribute to an environment that focuses university research activity towards the goal of commercialisation and national economic benefit,” Connolly said.

Universities picked to lead the hubs will be further supported by partnering with CSIRO and be given access to CSIRO Test Lab equipment. Defence industry, science and technology minister Melissa Price said hub researchers will be able to work with CSIRO’s applied scientists to prototype and test new technologies at scale.

“This is an exciting opportunity for our universities to develop research and technology that goes on to improve the lives of all Australians,” she said. 

As part of a two-stage selection process (expression of interest and then a business case), applying institutions will be expected to demonstrate a range of commercialisation readiness strengths. This will include proven links with industry partners (for example co-funding commitments), innovative Intellectual Property arrangements, promotion pathways for academics engaged in commercialisation activities, and a governance arrangement chaired by an industry leader.

Alan Tudge, minister for education and youth, said those institutions who were ‘willing to lead the charge’ would be chosen to set up the hubs. The government’s $50 million funding for each hub will be invested in recruiting and supporting academics to get involved in breakthrough research commercialisation activities, building greater commercialisation capability via staff training, and to go towards research infrastructure and facilities to support commercialisation outcomes.

The minister added that Australian universities had demonstrated strength in pure research but lagged in transforming research into breakthrough ideas, products, and new businesses.

“We want our universities to play a bigger role in our economy, working hand-in-glove with Australian businesses to develop the next generation of great Australian products and companies,” Tudge said.

“I am calling for expressions of interest from universities that are hungry to take research and convert it into commercial opportunities.” 

At least one regional Australian university will be chosen to host one of the four hubs, with the minister for regional communications and regional education minister Bridget McKenzie saying the fund would choose ‘innovation trailblazers’. She added that partnering with businesses in the mining and agriculture industries would help to deliver ‘ground-breaking solutions to real-world problems’.

“This fund is a great opportunity to establish closer connections between universities and the innovation potential in their region,” McKenzie said.

“I particularly encourage our regionally based campuses to consider this opportunity, as many already have positive, ongoing relationships with industry.”


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