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    Innovation takes many forms; what UNSW's new science and technology precinct means

    Deborah Singerman

     

    On cue for innovation and technology, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang unveiled research and development funding for Australian research through a new science and technology precinct at the University of New South Wales (UNSW).

    The new Torch Innovation Precinct is the first such partnership outside China. It is backed by leading Chinese companies and the Ministry of Science & Technology’s Torch high technology industry development program. Eight Chinese companies have secured an initial $30 million investment in energy, and environmental engineering, advanced materials and biotechnology. UNSW President and Vice-Chancellor Professor Ian Jacobs said of the $100 million partnership, “This is about future proofing our national competitiveness by strategically positioning Australia as China becomes the world’s largest investor in R&D and the 21st century’s science and technology superpower.”

    Since 1988, China’s Torch program has collocated Chinese businesses, universities and research organisations in science and technology precincts. The 150 Torch precincts in China now generate some 7 per cent of GDP, 10 per cent of industrial output and 16 per cent of export value. Independent economic modelling by Deloitte Access Economics estimated the new precinct would add more than $1 billion to Australia’s GDP in the first 10 years alone.

    The first group of UNSW Torch industry partners will initially set up incubator spaces on the university campus, close to researchers and a growing community of student entrepreneurs. Investment is expected to build to $100 million, enabling the construction of the innovation precinct by 2025.

    “The statistics are staggering. In China, Torch zones are home to over 50,000 tenant companies and invest RMB 347 billion [$A70 billion] in R&D,” said Laurie Pearcey, UNSW’s International Executive Director and former Chief Executive of the Australia China Business Council.

    We also have another Smart Cities initiative from the Australian Government. Its Smart Cities Plan promises to “coordinate and drive smarter city policy”, including improved sustainability. It will also draw on “innovative finance mechanisms”, such as value capture as developers gain from infrastructure development.

    With Chinese cities growing in size and number, more Australian cities and airports are wanting to be able to reach the people and markets of so-called second-tier cities, such as Dalian, in the northeast, Nanjing, located in the Yangtze River basin, and industrial and financial city, Wuhan.  It is two-way with more and more citizens from outside the tier-one Shanghais and Beijings, visiting Australia.

    And in a small way (but perhaps a small sign of an innovative future) Beijing is going to build 100 public toilets with free Wi-Fi service. Each toilet is expected to cost around 50,000 yuan (about $A9990) and is part of the program called "the toilet revolution". The connectivity drive will also cover mobile phones and electric vehicle-charging devices, a Beijing Municipal Commission of City Administration and Environment official, said. 


    Deborah Singerman runs her own writing, editing, proofing and project managing consultancy specialising in the urban built environment and community. @deborahsingerma

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