Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan recently announced the funding of six new Australian Research Council (ARC) Training Centres in a bid to boost research collaboration between universities and the private sector.
Tehan said the funding was aimed at helping university researchers “find practical solutions to a range of important challenges” that Australia is facing.
"This is research that will have practical applications that benefit Australia, including job creation, economic growth, productivity gains and improvements to medical treatment and the environment,” Minister Tehan said.
"Australia must get better at commercialising our research and better at turning ideas into jobs, productivity gains and growth."
Of the $24.1m the Federal Government recently pledged, some $5m would go to the funding of an ARC Training Centre for Cell and Tissues Engineering Technologies at Monash University, which has the highest number of ARC-approved projects.
With some 27 participating organisations from 4 four countries, Monash is expecting to attract another $13.2m in form of cash or in-kind support for its research endeavours.
Aside from medical breakthroughs, Minister Tehan said they expect to yield patents and spin-off companies.
Another $3.6m will be given to Monash for the establishment of the ARC Training Centres for Green Chemistry in Manufacturing. Some $7.7m in form of cash and in-kind will also be coursed to the Centre from the University’s 28 partner organisations across three countries.
The Queensland University of Technology (QUT) will be receiving $4m to build the ARC Industrial Transformation Training centre for Joint Biomechanics. The Centre will look into how it can boost treatment for osteoarthritis and other orthopaedic disorders as well as develop the area of personalised surgical treatment of joints.
Supporting the centre will be another $7.7m and collaboration with 12 of QUT’s partner organisations across three countries
The Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) will be receiving $3.9m for the establishment of the ARC training Centre for Transformation of Australia’s Biosolids Resources.
The Centre seeks to improve the management, transformation and reuse treated sewage waste in agriculture.
The University of Sydney is also set to receive $3.97m for the establishment of ARC Training Centre in Data Analytics for Resources and Environments. The Centre is expected to develop data science skills and tools for the management of the country’s natural resources.
Additionally, some $3.7m has been allotted to establish the ARC Training Centre for Integrated Operations for Complex Resources at the University of Adelaide, which seeks to improve the value of mining by maximising throughput and recovery.
However, universities shouldn’t immediately jump headfirst when it comes to striking research partnerships with the private sector, one expert warns.
In a recent article published in The Conversation, Lisa Bero, a chair professor at the University of Sydney, noted that research funding in the medical field and other industries is increasing – but at the expense of academic freedom.
Bero explained that when researchers’ studies can be barred from being published if they produce findings contrary to what the company who funded the study might want.
Worse still, the company could take legal action.
Bero said some sponsors may even manipulate evidence by framing the research questions, collecting the data, and only releasing findings that are favourable to their own interests.
To protect academic freedom, Bero says, scientists “should never sign, or let their institution sign, an agreement that gives a funder power to prevent dissemination of their research findings.”