Innovation and Science Australia chair Bill Ferris has called collaboration between university researchers and industry “the low hanging fruit for quick wins when it comes to driving innovation”.

Speaking at the Universities Australia’s 2016 Higher Education Conference in Canberra, Ferris told university leaders that fostering industry ties to commercialise research was “both desirable and achievable.”

“Right now, despite a host of recent indicators praising our scientific and creative abilities, we are dead last in the OECD rankings of academia and business collaboration for innovation,” Ferris said.

“Our alarming collaboration ranking is a direct contributor to our poor performance at commercialising our discoveries and this cannot continue.”

The Government has been testing the waters since 2014 to rejig research funding models to favour proposals with stronger potential commercial outcomes.

Where currently the goal of much research is to see it published in tier-one, peer-reviewed journals, the Government wants research to instead be geared around its potential for economic gain.

University of Western Australia Winthrop Professor for Entrepreneurship, Innovation, Marketing and Strategy Tim Mazzarol opined last year that the Government “is to be commended for trying to strengthen the university sector’s role in commercialising research and engaging with industry.”

“However, the university sector will need to make some significant adjustments if it is to meet the government’s targets,” Mazzarol said.

“Universities and academic researchers are not oriented towards commercial outcomes. There are disconnects around culture, outlook and goals.

“Universities will need to change their missions and policies to break down the layers of bureaucracy and develop more entrepreneurial cultures.

“Academic career paths will also have to include more time working with or within industry for the government’s strategy to succeed.”

Other academics are lukewarm on the move, believing that a rejigged funding model may deliver no better commercial impact.

But as the Government continues to sell its National Innovation and Science Agenda, it is pushing ahead with its plans.

“New arrangements recommended by Dr Ian Watt and taken up under the Government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda would simplify research block grants into two streams and seek to give universities an incentive to achieve greater industry and other end-user engagement, in addition to providing grants on the basis of traditional tests of research excellence,” Ferris said this week.

“At the same time, I understand we need to continue to excel in fundamental research, I don’t accept that research excellence and clever commercialisation are mutually exclusive.

“Improving the research funding mix is welcome because it will encourage more and more researchers to reach out.”