(Aus) Ntl Research Infrastructure (NRI)
National Research Infrastructure Roadmap Exposure Draft, Department of Education, Skills and Employment, December 2021
About the Exposure Draft
The 2021 National Research Infrastructure (NRI) Roadmap aims to provide a roadmap and vision for National Research Infrastructure investment for the next 5 to 10 years.
This Exposure Draft has been informed by consultations undertaken throughout 2021 with the research community and its stakeholders. Significant background work has also been undertaken to understand the international context and emerging research trends.
Stakeholders are encouraged to read the Exposure Draft and to provide feedback by responding to the targeted questions in the online form below. This feedback will be shared with the Expert Working Group and will guide the delivery of the final 2021 National Research Infrastructure Roadmap.
- The full text of the Exposure Draft is available on this page, or via the download below.
- Feedback questions appear in an online form below. All responses are limited to 300 words per question.
- If you would like to provide feedback in a video or audio file, please contact the 2021 NRI Roadmap team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- If you encounter any issues submitting your responses via the online form below, please get in touch with the team from The Friday Collective at email@example.com.
Feedback closes 5pm (AEDT) Wednesday, 22 December 2021.
Road to stability and maturity
National research infrastructure (NRI) comprises a range of nationally significant assets, facilities and services that support leading-edge research and innovation. However, it is much more than instruments and devices: a highly skilled workforce supports both the equipment and the researchers that use it. Australia’s NRI network has been built over decades and successfully underpins fundamental and applied research across many disciplines.
As the global pandemic continues and Australia transitions towards net zero emissions, the role of science in addressing our biggest domestic and global challenges is significant. Investigating the national research infrastructure our researchers need to support these endeavours has never been more important.
The 2021 National Research Infrastructure Roadmap (Roadmap) details a clear path for Australia to maintain existing NRI strengths while also delivering a step-change in capability. These proposed NRI investments will ensure Australian research remains competitive internationally, protects uniquely national assets, manages sovereign risk and helps create new industries.
The Expert Working Group believes that the following must be considered when planning for the future research infrastructure needs of the research and innovation community:
- support for fundamental research is critical. The right NRI investment ensures that Australia can undertake world class research in areas of significance.
- Australia’s NRI investment is strong and contributes to our research effort. In times of uncertainty, NRI is especially important. The current investment in NRI enabled Australia to respond quickly to the challenges of the 2019–2020 bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic.
- there is an opportunity for Australia to make key investments in NRI, delivering a step-change in research that can improve our standard of living, strengthen our economic standing and build sovereign capabilities to protect Australia’s interests.
- NRI needs to engage more effectively with industry and other research end users. This will help to future proof the NRI investment and lead to greater translation of research.
The current NRI network positions Australia well in its research effort and is expected to continue to do so:
- a robust funding model with ongoing investment to support existing capabilities should remain a key priority for governments.
- the current NRI capacity provides an essential base to support government priorities such as the Modern Manufacturing Strategy, the National Science and Research Priorities, the National Climate Resilience and Adaptation Strategy, the Blueprint for Critical Technologies, Australia’s Long-Term Emissions Reduction Plan and the University Research Commercialisation Scheme. The quality of the facilities and their ability to support a broad range of research needs to ensure ongoing relevance to emerging priorities.
The NRI principles set as part of the 2016 NRI Roadmap have driven sound investment decisions over the last five years but there is a need to review the principles to ensure they continue to meet the evolving needs of modern research.
Australia’s investment in NRI involves a collaborative approach to supporting the research sector. Co-investment brings a diversity of perspectives, increases creativity and capacity across the system and helps deliver return on investment. Infrastructure investment is about creating an ecosystem of expertise, infrastructure and services to support researchers. The human capital required to operate the NRI is equally important in achieving research outcomes.
Exponential growth in data across all disciplines will be a critical challenge for the NRI over coming years, highlighting the need for integration of computing and data infrastructures and the maintenance of a strong digital infrastructure ecosystem.
Researchers are increasingly focused on investigating solutions to complex problems that are not easily solved by a single discipline. The research with the greatest impact is derived from collaboration across the science, technology, engineering and maths and humanities, arts and social sciences disciplines1. The creative arts, humanities and social sciences play an important role in ensuring social acceptance and uptake of research outcomes, adoption of new technologies and ensuring ethical and responsible development and application of emerging technology. NRI investment must support all fields of research and encourage their interconnectedness.
Many NRI facilities are expanding their focus to better cater for the needs of end-users, such as conducting regular user satisfaction and needs surveys to help inform operational improvements and future planning. These developments could be further emphasised through future Research Infrastructure Investment Plans.
The global pandemic has focused the world on science and what it can achieve for humanity. Investing in the next generation of technologies will place Australia at the cutting edge of research over the next decade and develop greater levels of sovereign capability.
Recommendation 1: Adopt the NRI Principles
The Principles presented in this Roadmap outline the objectives for NRI investment. The 2021 principles have been developed in recognition of rapid changes in the research and technology landscape. They are designed to assist decision making that will protect Australia’s interests and build capacity where there is a need to maintain sovereign capability. Specific investment principles have been developed to align opportunities for planning and co-investment with research and industry partners, as well as state and territory governments. The Principles should be adopted by Government and implemented in the 2022 Research Infrastructure Investment Plan.
Recommendation 2: Provide continuity and long-term funding to NRI
Australia’s current network of national research infrastructure has been extremely successful in supporting national priorities and international collaboration. Funding stability since 2017-18 has resulted in the development of a strong suite of NRI underpinned by a highly skilled workforce. This stability needs to be maintained in recognition of the long-term operations of NRI. Government should maintain or increase current funding levels for NRI beyond 2028-29.
Recommendation 3: Adopt a challenge framework to support NRI planning and investment
The 2021 Roadmap identified key challenges that have significant impact for Australia and around the world. Using a challenge framework to support NRI planning and investment will assist our research effort to address the big issues facing Australia. The challenges below aim to focus research efforts and attract co-investment in the necessary research infrastructure to increase Australia’s economic prosperity and improve the lives of individuals.
- Resources Technology and Critical Minerals Processing – We are a global resources leader stemming from our rich natural resource endowments, huge investments in R&D, proximity to the growing Asian market and a skilled workforce. We can leverage these strengths in combination with our vast critical minerals endowments to deliver critical enablers for a range of sectors.
- Food and Beverage – Our success is underpinned by our international reputation for premium, safe and high quality food and beverage products, strong production capabilities, research expertise and market proximity.
- Medical Products – We have strong medical research capability, a reputation for quality and standards and proximity to emerging markets in Asia with rapidly aging demographics and a growing middle class.
- Recycling and Clean Energy – We have strong circular economy research capabilities, as well as world-class solar and wind resources and a well-established minerals industry and skills base. We also have a large land mass to build on and experience in delivering large energy projects.
- Defence – Defence exports are growing, with a focus on increasing the international competitiveness and success of Australian defence industry. The sector provides advanced technology with cross-sectoral applications and delivers on our national security imperatives as outlined in the Defence Industrial Capability Plan.
- Space – Space technologies enable activity across the economy. Our emerging global position is underpinned by research expertise, geographical location, cutting-edge facilities and advanced manufacturing capabilities.
- Environment and Climate – Our future prosperity will be safeguarded by positioning Australia to better anticipate, manage and adapt to our changing climate.
- Frontier Technologies and Modern Manufacturing – Developing and translating critical technologies required to support modern manufacturing and secure supply chains. Success will include investment in research and commercialisation of critical technologies.
Recommendation 4: Establish an Expert NRI Advisory Group to drive a more effective NRI ecosystem
Government needs ongoing independent, long-term strategic advice on NRI priorities, trends and opportunities. This is best achieved through the establishment of an expert advisory group with a relevant range of skills. This should be established within the next six months.
The immediate priorities for the Expert NRI Advisory Group will be:
- development of a NRI Workforce Strategy to support career pathways, address technical skills shortages and identify capability gaps. NRI is underpinned by a highly skilled and increasingly specialised workforce that needs job security and opportunities for career mobility and professional development.
- a review of current NRI facilities and services to identify opportunities for greater integration and alignment of functions across the network. This should include an assessment of impact to inform the investment levels required in each NRI facility, their levels of maturity and identify areas of consolidation. It should examine current business models to ensure NRI is continuing to meet the needs of users and deliver the most impact.
- providing advice to Government on immediate and long term NRI planning and funding strategies. This includes guidance on the most effective way to support Government research priorities and maximise NRI co-investment opportunities. Advice should take into account all research income (Commonwealth and State and Territory Governments, industry and the research sector) and where the most impact can be delivered.
Recommendation 5: Drive a more integrated NRI ecosystem
Modern research occurs across disciplinary boundaries to address increasingly complex problems. This requires linkages, interaction, and collaboration within and across the NRI system. The future vision of a seamless ecosystem of NRI services for researchers will require an even greater level of collaboration across the NRI system. Considering the NRI ecosystem as a set of functions (outlined below) could draw out opportunities for further collaboration and integration of services.
- Observation and monitoring
- Computing and modelling
- Management of datasets and collections
- Fabrication and manufacturing
- Measurement and characterisation.
Recommendation 6: Improve industry engagement with NRI
Although improving, there are barriers limiting effective engagement and research translation between NRI and industry. NRI needs to be more visible and accessible to industry and the mutual benefits from closer collaboration should be promoted. Successful research translation will require a range of elements working together in harmony across jurisdictions. This includes the legal, governance, business and social licence frameworks needed to achieve real impact. The business models around NRI management need to change to enable greater research impact and reach.
Recommendation 7: Develop a National Digital Research Infrastructure Strategy
An important driver for maintaining quality research output is Australia’s ability to generate and analyse data as well as improving the digital skills of researchers. Digital research infrastructure is fundamental to Australia’s research effort and requires a national strategy. The strategy will coordinate and integrate the national digital research infrastructure (NDRI) ecosystem to streamline access to data, computing and analysis needs for the research sector. This strategy will support researchers across all fields by not only maximising the data available, but also providing the computing resources and digital tools and expertise needed to make best use of the data. The strategy should be consistent with, and supportive of, other whole of government initiatives in this area, such as the Digital Economy Strategy and Australian Data Strategy. The NDRI strategy should be developed by Government over the next year with any immediate insights feeding into the 2022 Investment Plan.
Recommendation 8: Prepare Australia to tackle future challenges
The Expert Working Group recommends that Australia should enhance its sovereign capability with initial consideration given to the following NRI areas:
- cutting edge national digital research infrastructure
- synthetic biology research infrastructure to deliver new bioindustries
- research translation infrastructure to drive increased industry investment
- world-leading environmental and climate infrastructure to underpin Australia’s national adaptation strategy.