A new way to slice the SA research pie

The South Australian Productivity Commission backs the proposed merger of the universities of Adelaide and SA, calling it, “sound economic policy” with “the potential to play an important role in transforming South Australia into a high innovation, high wage, State.”

The judgement is in a report on the economic impact of research, commissioned before the merger plan was announced.

But the PC is keen to back it, stating its proposals “align.” 

This is no surprise, given a merger tick was in a published PC draft. And in May, Commission Chair Adrian Tembel was reported as saying the 8 per cent “wage gap” between SA and the national average could ”be eased” by the merger (Campus Morning Mail, April 17 and May 25). 

Sponsor of the merger, Premier Peter Malinauskas, now says, “it would be extraordinary” if the Joint Parliamentary Committee investigating did not accept the evidence.

Except the Commission’s recommendations on government partnering with universities to grow the economy don’t depend on it. 

“If a merger does not proceed, by focusing stakeholders on the greater economic role the universities could play in the South Australian economy and society, the process has served a useful purpose,” the report states.

And the PC’s proposals do not appear to depend on the number of public universities in the state. The Commission wants,

  • “impact on and engagement with the South Australian economy” to become a statutory objective for universities” – done by amending university acts of state parliament 
  • a state government fund, supporting SA universities “on their journey to becoming entrepreneurial universities,” notably by, “building business, university connections in critical technology areas”
  • creation of “critical technology applied research institutes … tasked with bridging the gap between university research and industry needs around a specific critical technology, or key societal problem”
  • funding allocations made by cabinet on advice of “a body specifically tasked with undertaking that assessment” 

It’s a fall-back position for the Premier if the government’s merger legislation was to fail in the Upper House, where a committee is now inquiring into the merger.  

If the PC report is adopted, it is also a win for Flinders U, whether or not the merger happens. It is hard to see how any government could exclude one of two, or three public universities from a share of the state’s applied research pie. 



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