Australians should be greatly concerned about the flat-lining of the number of students starting research degrees, Professor Alan Robson, Vice-Chancellor of The University of Western Australia said today.
Speaking at the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research in Melbourne, Professor Robson said any discussion of Australia's innovation system must acknowledge the vital importance of postgraduate students to the sustainability of our nation's research future.
"The flat-lining of the number of students starting research degrees should be a cause of significant concern to us all. To overcome this problem we need to be focussing on more innovative mechanisms to both attract and retain students into research," he said.
"These could include: better research career structures; larger stipends for PhD students; higher levels of funding per scholarship; full support for the cost of providing research training, for both domestic and international students; consideration of mechanisms to develop strong intellectual communities that support research students in the same way that staff are supported; and, improvements in how we take into account ethics, social inclusion, and global responsibility which are emerging as key issues worldwide in research training.
"We also need to consider how benefits from research are valued. Such benefits could be of an economic kind (a new product, technology or service); of a social kind (increased knowledge of relevance to policy makers and practitioners); of an environmental kind (for example, improved techniques to rehabilitate decommissioned mine sites); of a cultural kind (such as increased understanding of cultural values, or innovative approaches to art); or of a health kind (for example, a better understanding of the causes of developmental disorders or better means of delivering health services).
"It is also crucial that we acknowledge the importance of ensuring that public-good research is adequately communicated to end-users. In all of this, fundamental research is the foundation which makes possible much of the innovation and application and the whole range of beneficial impacts that flow from public investment in research back to the community," he said.
Professor Robson said a nation's strength in basic research was a determinant of its capacity to supply the skilled graduates and researchers that underpin knowledge industries; respond to the social, environmental and economic challenges it faces; understand and apply ideas and innovations generated in other countries; develop new scientific instrumentation and methods; and, create new firms and industries.
"If we are to do better at increasing our capacity as an innovative nation - and I believe that we do need to do better - then the three key players, government, business and universities need to have complementary strategies to achieve these goals.
"Serious investment in innovation will help ensure that we can advance both economically and socially; remain linked to the wider world of global knowledge; and provide a range of exciting opportunities for Australia's youth," Professor Robson said.
Professor Alan Robson 61 8 6488 2809
Janine MacDonald (UWA Public Affairs) 61 8 6488 5563 / 0432 637 716