Role of HASS Sector

Excerpt from Emeritus Professor Steven Schwartz AM, ‘From the Executive Director’s Desk’, CHASS Newsletter, Issue 78, July 2014

As the mining industry matures, and its revenues reach a plateau, Australian society must adapt to a new economic (and social) environment. Innovation—the creation and successful application of knowledge—is essential to ensure a secure future for our children and grandchildren. To foster an innovative culture, governments at all levels are investing heavily in education and research. To encourage entrepreneurs to turn new ideas into job-creating businesses, tax incentives have been put in place and bureaucratic bottlenecks removed. Still, there is more work to do. Despite many calls to extend Australia’s innovation system to include the HASS sector, innovation policy remains firmly focused on STEM subjects.

Successive reviews, inquiries and white papers have identified three ways in which the HASS sector contributes to innovation. The first is facilitation. The success of STEM-derived technology is often dependent on HASS research. Consider the cochlear implant, for example. Without the work of cognitive psychologists, linguists, marketers, sociologists and lawyers, the bionic ear would be a laboratory curiosity rather than a boon to profoundly deaf people.

The second way that HASS contributes to innovation is by fostering a climate of innovation. As Lord Stern, President of the British Academy puts it, HASS “thrives on dissent” and “commercial opportunities often arise when we think most freely and creatively and leave conventional wisdoms behind.” The third way that HASS fosters innovation is through the “creative” industries. Dance, drama, music, film, TV, radio, design, publishing, gaming, museums, galleries, cultural tourism together contribute $45 billion to the GDP and generate exports of $3.2 billion per year.

Clearly, the HASS sector plays a large and productive role in Australia’s innovation system. But there is more that could be done. The main impediment is innovation policies, designed for STEM subjects, are a poor fit for HASS. Harnessing and exploiting the innovative potential of the arts and social sciences requires bespoke policies, processes and structures. When it comes to innovation, one size does not fit all.

The Senate Economics References Committee is currently holding an inquiry into the Australian Innovation System. CHASS has conducted research on innovation and made submissions to previous inquiries. CHASS will also make a submission to this inquiry. However, other CHASS organisations can also make their voice heard. If you have ideas you would like to add to the debate, you can send them to the inquiry by email. You have until 31 July 2014, so don’t procrastinate.

[Members are reminded that the  2014 CHASS Forum will be held at the University of Melbourne’s Woodward Conference Centre on 8-9 October 2014].