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Commercialisation ‘failing to raise university income’

A strong focus on applied research and commercialisation of research results over more than a decade has not translated into clear long-term financial gain for Australia’s universities, according to a study by the Grattan Institute, a public policy think tank.

The study, published on 29 January, said that funding for basic research at Australian universities had declined sharply in the 16 years after 1992 from nearly 40 per cent of all research expenditure to under 30 per cent.

But although the shift to applied science had resulted in more commercialisation activities at universities, potential commercial output had not resulted in more income.

The report showed that the focus on applied research had led to an increase in “invention disclosures”—notification of a novel and useful device, material or method to universities’ technology transfer offices. The rise was 170 per cent between 2000 and 2009, to nearly 1,200 disclosures.

The number of legally enforceable plant and breeders’ rights disclosures increased by a similar percentage, to 600.

But universities’ licensing income had averaged less than AU$100 million per year over the last decade, while contract revenue from industry has been around AU$250m a year, the study said.

The report also noted a substantial increase in published books, book chapters, journal articles and refereed conference papers since the mid-1990s, with statics showing a jump in published journal articles by Australian academics from just under 15,000 in 1996 to a little below 35,000 in 2010.