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Australian ICT research spending surges

Supercomputer projects boost spending, but ICT languishes behind medical research

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Sharp climb in Australian ICT research spending Supercomputer builds boost numbers Australian higher education organisations collectively spent AUD$358.5m researching what the Australian Bureau of Statistics calls “Information and computing sciences” in 2010, according to the Bureau's newly-released Research and Experimental Development, Higher Education Organisations, Australia, 2010.

Professor Matthew Bailes of Swinburne University of Technology suggested the jump can largely be attributed to new supercomputer builds at the Pawsey Centre, the Australian National University's NCI machine and the VLSCI supercomputer at Melbourne University. Professor Bailes suggests each of these efforts has a budget in the tens of millions, with the Pawsey project alone worth AUD$80m.

Professor Bailes' guess seems as good an explanation as any for why the increase from 2008 to 2010 is comfortably the largest increase in the history of the ABS' data on the topic, as can be seen in the table below

Year of ABS report Level of research (in AUD$millions)
2010 $358,582
2008 $230,844
2006 $238,499
2004 $207,664
2002 $144,133
2000 $114,228
1998 $134,282
1996 $139,265
1994 $92,354
1992 $74,876

It's also instructive to look at the overall spending on research in 2010, which shows ICT in 5th place overall.

Discipline Level of research (in AUD$Millions)
Medical and health sciences $2,351,222
Engineering $772,237
Biological sciences $751,305
Studies in human society $432,741
Information and computing sciences $358,582
Commerce, management, tourism and services $352,057
Education $314,449
Agricultural and veterinary sciences $307,897
Chemical sciences $293,338
Physical sciences $263,901
Environmental sciences $251,967
Psychology and cognitive sciences $240,237
Economics $218,841
Language, communication and culture $212,551
Earth sciences $206,903
Technology $157,110
Mathematical sciences $150,337
Law and legal studies $137,788
Studies in creative arts and writing $122,353
History and archaeology $112,672
Built environment and design $107,299
Philosophy and religious studies $87,213

It's hard to analyse the ABS data longitudinally because the names of categories change over time, and some categories enter and exit the lists. But we sort all the categories on offer, and rank them by year, to offer a look at where research dollars have flowed over time.

The full analysis is a little tricky to format, so we've made it available here as a spreadsheet.

Year Rank for ICT research
1992 10
1994 8
1996 7
1998 6
2000 6
2002 6
2004 5
2006 7
2008 8
2010 5

This analysis suggests that, were it not for the projects Professor Bailes mentions, ICT would likely have remained in eighth position in terms of funding received.

We'll leave debate about whether eighth place is “good enough” to others, but it seems worth noting that medical research has been the number one recipient of funds in every surveyed year since 1994. ICT also outranks “Earth Sciences” in every year, which may lead to some head-scratching about just which field is the engine of the economy. ®

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