International science engagement pays dividends for Australia

The Australian delegation votes at the International Mathematical Union’s general assembly in Rio de Janeiro, 2018. Photo: Ya-Xiang Yuan

International science engagement pays dividends for Australia

The economic and scientific benefits to Australia’s membership of major global science organisations have been outlined in a report released today by the Australian Academy of Science.

The report, Benefits of Australian membership of the International Science Council and International Scientific Unions, also highlights the important role that science has as a soft power asset in diplomacy.

Professor Sir Peter Gluckman, former Chief Science Advisor to the New Zealand Prime Minister, launched the report today in Canberra in his role as President-elect of the International Science Council (ISC). The Australian Academy of Science represents Australia on the International Science Council.

The report shows that Australia benefits as a member of global science organisations by:

  • receiving a direct economic return-estimated at $118 million from 2000 to 2017- through hosting scientific union meetings in Australia and other activities
  • receiving indirect benefits such as the invaluable opportunities for Australian scientists, especially young scientists, to collaborate with international leaders in ways that greatly accelerate delivery of the long-term economic benefits of scientific progress for Australia
  • providing opportunities for Australian perspectives to contribute efforts to use science to solve global challenges
  • enhancing Australia’s international scientific profile and reputation.

“As members of international science organisations, Australians scientists have the opportunity to help shape science in our region and beyond,” said the Academy’s Foreign Secretary, Professor Elaine Sadler FAA.

“While Australia benefits from its membership of the International Science Council and the International Scientific Unions, we would derive greater scientific and economic benefits by taking a more strategic approach.”

Diplomacy through science also provides benefits to Australia and the national interest is well served when scientific activities open doors and broker dialogue with other nations, especially where geopolitical issues might otherwise slow positive cooperation.

“In Australia science is an under-used element in diplomacy and it is not yet recognised as a key soft power asset, whilst in countries around the world science diplomacy is fast becoming a strategic part of the national tool kit,” Professor Sadler said.

Australia has felt the absence of an international engagement strategy for science, technology and innovation with long-term resourcing.

Such a strategy would enable Australia to:

  • maintain participation in key international decision-making science bodies
  • support bids to attract international scientific conferences to Australia
  • contribute to bilateral and multilateral partnerships and research programs where they align with research priorities, or serve our diplomatic objectives
  • allow Australia to meet its agreed Sustainable Development Goal obligations
  • develop a program for early- and mid-career researchers to establish partnerships with international leaders in their field, building networks that will be beneficial to Australia for decades to come
  • expand the network of science counsellors and attachés in Australian embassies in priority countries and regions around the world
  • target programs to provide scientific support to assist Australian foreign affairs and trade policy objectives.

Internationals scientific engagement is a key priority included in the Australian Academy of Science priorities for the 2019 federal election: Earning Our Future.

Since it was formed in 1954, the Academy has received funding from the Australian Government to oversee membership of these organisations on the nation’s behalf. It manages these memberships with guidance and assistance from the Academy’s 22 National Committees for Science and the more than 450 scientists who are active in various levels of the organisations at any time.

The report, Benefits of Australian Membership of the International Science Council and International Scientific Unions is available here:

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