South Australia builds science and innovation capability

South Australia will soon release a new “Science Action Plan” that lays the groundwork for innovation, and broader engagement with higher education and industry stakeholders, says chief scientist, Dr Leanna Read.

South Australia’s science council will soon release a “Science Action Plan” that lays the foundations for innovation, industry engagement, and R&D commercialisation. 

The broader thrust of this plan was shared by Dr Leanna Read, chief scientist for South Australia. She was a keynote speaker at the inaugural FST Government South Australia conference held 30th March in Adelaide.

Dr Read said the latest action plan is being led by South Australia’s science council, representing an independent group. The outlook for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), and technology transfer is also being explored.

Presently, few teachers at a secondary level had a background in STEM subjects, Dr Read said. At primary school, teachers that were polled recently said they worried about digital technologies, and gaining the in-depth understanding.

“We need an inspiring teacher at the front of the classroom, and one who knows the subject. An inspiring teacher is the key,” she said.

Moreover, teachers had to undergo training in a fast-moving field. Unlike learning a language, the STEM field changed by the minute, and needed up-skilling.

Innovation did not occur in isolation, noted Dr Read. “We need a consortium of partners. The focus is on translating that research, and benefits for the state.”

Traditional research was bottom up. “You work on a widget forever, and maybe one, day, someone will find a use for it. That research is important and underpins a lot of work. But the downside is we do far too much of that.”

It was more productive to focus on the opportunity and outcomes. “This brings together researchers with end-users and the community, in long-term partnerships. There’s nothing like a marriage to have to work together.”

Success lay in investing $4 million into a project, rather relying on the pixie dust. “We need the scale. We cannot have transformation if we just focus on our traditional industries.”

One recent global economic complexity index – predicting nation’s future wealth – placed Australia as bubbling along at the bottom.

“We have traditionally relied on primary industries: we dig it up, grow it and ship it out. The future is not in that direction. How do we transform and add value to traditional sectors?”

Industries of tomorrow have not been invented today. But digital technologies are a key part of the journey. To develop more brands like Apple, the industry needed to be more entrepreneurial, said Dr Read.

This was to boost high-impact entrepreneurship. ”High-tech companies will come from our base of graduates. Our universities are introducing entrepreneurship training, for example, Flinders University, now builds modules of entrepreneurship into every degree. Traditionally, this was in the business school.”

One recent development was around cyber-security. “We don’t train enough people in this area, but the number and frequency of threats have sky-rocketed,” noted Dr Read.

For South Australia, the latest investment was to build cyber-security capability. This leveraged a virtual model, with Adelaide as the hub node. “This node will develop training and testing facilities. From deep to board-level training, security understanding needs to penetrate all levels of the enterprise.”

With South Australia flagged as an SME state, the cyber-security program would help software developers build their capabilities and safely test software.

The Adelaide hub will be a virtual facility,” added Dr Read. “We will work with universities and industries, and hopefully develop an industry that focuses on cyber-security. Digital technologies underpin so much, and are the bread and butter for all industries.”

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