Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Scientific research spending lags behind smaller countries

By Justin Norrie 
Editor

Nations half the size of Australia spend more on scientific research, have higher employment levels for scientists, and greater appeal to foreign investors, according to a report on Australia’s global standing in science.

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Although Australia’s rate of spending on research and development is greater than in France, Canada and Britain, it remains well below the rate in smaller Scandinavian nations, according to the report, commissioned by Australia’s chief scientist, Ian Chubb.

The author, Alan Pettigrew, an Adjunct Professor at the College of Medicine, Biology and Environment at the Australian National University, compared OECD figures published in September last year for Australia and 12 other countries: Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Britain and the US.

Australia spends about 2.25% of its GDP on research and development. Denmark spends 3%, Sweden about 3.6% and Finland almost 4%. Whereas Australia has just eight researchers per 1,000 workers, Sweden has 10, Denmark 12 and Finland 16.

Although Australia has one of the highest rates of researchers in higher education employment – five per 1,000 – it has the lowest rate in business, two in every 1,000, Professor Pettigrew said.
“The bulk of Australia’s world-class research and development takes place in its universities. Through this effort, Australia produces 2.6% of the OECD nations’ total number of science and engineering graduates at doctorate level.

“The low level of researcher employment in Australian businesses indicates, however, that this research...

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Justin Norrie 
is an editor at The Conversation (theconversation.edu.au), where this was first published.