The value of research and innovation

Innovation has been identified by the Australian Government as essential in creating more economic and social opportunities for Australians by 2030. Furthermore, the downturn in Australia’s mining and resource sector has created an imperative for Australia to transition towards becoming a knowledge-based economy1.

The 2016 Performance Review of the Australian Innovation, Science and Research System highlights that Australia excels in knowledge creation, ranking 8th out of 36 OECD countries for research citations, and 11th out of 34 for proportion of the population with a doctorate qualification.

However, there is substantial evidence that we are poor at translating and commercialising our strong research base.

This finding was highlighted in the 2015 National Innovation and Science Agenda, the Australian Government’s flagship innovation and science policy that sets out Australia’s vision for economic prosperity:

“Australia’s rate of collaboration between industry and researchers (at 2-3%) is currently the lowest in the OECD. Furthermore, Australian businesses do not have as much internal research expertise as key comparator countries either. At 43%, Australia’s proportion of researchers employed in business is significantly lower than countries such as Germany (56%), South Korea (79%) and Israel (84%).”

Enhanced connections with Australia’s strong research foundation and increased application of research to generate economic values are critical in the knowledge-based economy transition2.

More broadly, workers with greater levels of human capital (in terms of total skills, competencies and social attributes) will be pivotal in driving future knowledge-based economic growth3.

Over the past 70 years, the nature of work in Australia has transformed. The first major shift was a gradual decline in construction, manufacturing, mining, and agriculture sectors while service sector jobs increased, now accounting for the employment of approximately 80% of Australians4.

A second shift has been a transition in the types of jobs, with an increase in interaction jobs5 and a decrease in production and transaction jobs6. Interaction jobs now account for 50% of jobs in Australia, and will account for 60% of the workforce by 20307.

The value of Higher Degree Research (HDR8)

The next five to ten years are expected to see further changes in the skills required in the workforce, with a greater emphasis on critical thinking, creative problem solving and complex problem solving9, which are core skills developed during an HDR candidature10.

“We have a diverse portfolio, both in engineering and science and
also clinical. It’s critical we have the right skill set in
business, and a PhD is the essential training that delivers that outcome.”

– Industry stakeholder

The research training experience develops the skills necessary for productive, insightful exploration and development. As trained problem-solvers and creators of knowledge, they can accelerate innovation and translate research to address business challenges and develop new products and services.

The value of these skills is being increasingly recognised outside of academia, and the continued growth in HDR completions means there is now increased opportunity for industry to further leverage these capabilities.

“Industry also has to stop looking at PhDs as subject matter experts,
it’s more about smart people dealing with complex problems
that can create insight and can see things that other people can’t”

– Industry stakeholder

Maximising the value of links between industry and HDR candidates will become even more important over the next decade as demand for research qualified workers and the ageing population impact workforce availability. Estimates suggest 1.3 million graduates with postgraduate qualifications will need to enter Australia’s knowledge workforce from 2015-2025 to drive the future economy11. It has been predicted that the demand for individuals with research qualifications will surpass the supply available for employment in this time frame12.

The length, individualistic nature, and complexity of HDR projects are key characteristics differentiating this from other forms of postgraduate education or undergraduate degrees. Candidates are responsible for the scope, design, development, implementation, management, and evaluation of their research projects. Combined with the independence required in HDR programs, these elements improve the initiative and resilience of HDR candidates, which are critical for driving change and solutions-based work in industry environments.

The majority of HDR candidates also have work experience prior to or alongside their HDR candidature, further adding to their professional capabilities13.


1 OECD (2014). Going for Growth 2014: Australia. Paris. In: ATN (2017). Enhancing the value of PhDs to Australian Industry. ACT, Australia.

2 Europe of Knowledge. (2014). The value of the PhD in a knowledge-based economy: Beyond financial and career gains; and Deloitte Access Economics (2015). The importance of Universities to Australia’s prosperity. Canberra. In: ATN (2017). Enhancing the value of PhDs to Australian Industry. ACT, Australia.

3 Jackson, D. and Michelson, G. (2014). Factors influencing the employment of Australian PhDs. Studies in Higher Education, vol. 40, no. 9, pp. 1660-1678; DISSR (2011). 2011 Strategic Roadmap for Australian Research Infrastructure. Canberra; and Hodgson, P. (2009). Beyond doctorates down under: Maximising the impact of your doctorate from Australia and New Zealand. Melbourne: Acer Press. In: ATN (2017). Enhancing the value of PhDs to Australian Industry. ACT, Australia.

4 Jobs for NSW 2016, Jobs for the future: Adding 1 million rewarding jobs in NSW by 2036. Jobs for NSW; Sydney, p. 25. Available online.

5 Note: interaction jobs involve more complex human interactions and judgements.

6 Note: production jobs involve making and moving things e.g. construction workers, and transaction jobs involve procedural, rules-based tasks e.g. bookkeepers or clerks.

7 Lowe, P. (2017). The labour market and monetary policy, address to the Anika Foundation luncheon, Reserve Bank of Australia, Canberra. In: Innovation and Science Australia (2018). Australia 2030: prosperity through innovation. Australian Government; ACT, Australia.

8 HDR stands for Higher Degree Research. In Australia, our HDR students (known as ‘candidates’) are completing a research degree, usually referring to a PhD. Click here for more information on what this means.

9 Office of the Chief Scientist (2014). Australia’s STEM workforce: a survey of employers. Canberra: Deloitte Access Economics. In: ATN (2017). Enhancing the value of PhDs to Australian Industry. ACT, Australia.

10 ACOLA (2016). Review of Australia’s training research system. Melbourne. In: ATN (2017). Enhancing the value of PhDs to Australian Industry. ACT, Australia.

11 Deloitte Access Economics. (2015). The importance of Universities to Australia’s prosperity. Canberra. In: ATN (2017). Enhancing the value of PhDs to Australian Industry. ACT, Australia.

12 Edwards, Daniel; Radloff, Ali; and Coates, Hamish. (2009). Supply, demand and characteristics of the higher degree by research population in Australia. In: ATN (2017). Enhancing the value of PhDs to Australian Industry. ACT.

13 Consultations with University Executives, in: ATN (2017). Enhancing the value of PhDs to Australian Industry. ACT, Australia.

Note: some content on this page has been extracted and modified from the following sources