Celebrating Science? Australia’s Global Innovation Ranking drops

It’s National Science Week this week – Australia’s annual celebration of science and technology. With our universities and research institutes being at the forefront of global technology, we should have much to celebrate.

The Global Innovation Index 2016 has been released ranking the innovation performance of 182 countries and economies using 82 indicators. Instead of giving cause to celebrate, Australia has dropped two places from 17th (2014 and 2015) to 19th. The 17th spot is now filled by our friends across the ditch in New Zealand (dropping from 15th in 2015). Australia is also outranked regionally, with Singapore (6), Korea (11) and Hong Kong (14) filling the top three spots in the region. See the full rankings here.

A very reasonable question to ask, particularly given the recent government focus on innovation, is ‘why?’

Key indicators of the Global Innovation Index provide some confirmation that Australia has strengths in tertiary education, infrastructure and market sophistication. However, Australia currently performs poorly in ‘knowledge and technology outputs’ including ‘knowledge diffusion’ which reflects Australia’s relatively low utilisation of intellectual property protection vehicles. This suggests a disconnect between research establishments and actual commercialisation of research. That is, Australia may be good at innovation, but performs poorly maximising commercial outcomes. This may be due at least in part to the culture of incentivising researchers to publish above all else (compare the ranking of ‘output of scientific and technical articles’ (9) to ‘patents by origin’ (51)). The loss of value to the economy is likely to be significant.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom. The end of the resources boom is providing real and present impetus to capitalise on our world class innovations. Initiatives such as ECU’s THE LINK provide opportunity for collaboration and communication between industry, universities and government, a union which can only encourage creation of real economic value from innovation. As we move more firmly into commercialisation and implementation of ’home grown’ innovations, we look forward to having even more to celebrate in future science weeks!