There’s an ad on the side of many buses at the moment comparing Australian Internet speeds to Romanian Internet speeds. If there were to be a similar ad for our spending on R&D the country we’d be being compared with is Estonia.
OECD figures on R&D make disturbing reading for Australia. We spend about the same as Estonia, a country with a population roughly the same as Adelaide. In the embedded graph below, we’re in the messy mosh-pit in the middle. The advanced European countries we should be comparing ourselves to are leaving us deeply in their wake.
What makes this even more distributing, for me, is that the bulk of Australian R&D is driven by the manufacturing, construction and resources industries. Our investment in R&D for knowledge-based industries is pitiful – we’re beaten by Luxembourg, a country with a population roughly the size of the city of Newcastle.
In the UK, the Campaign for Science & Engineering is trying to do something about their falling R&D spend. They’re concerned because the UK sits 21st on the ranking of government spending on research as a percentage of GDP. That’s the red line on the graph up above. Australia sits 27th, just above Hungary and Poland and a long way behind Estonia, let alone Finland.
Those ads on buses talk about our Internet speed being a matter of national pride. Our record on R&D spending should be a matter of national fear. Our future as the wealthiest country in the World is on shaky ground when we simply don’t take investment in R&D seriously.
See the OECD website for more information and statistics.