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Networks and Collaboration4.2 Absorptive Capacity

4.2.1 Business human resources devoted to R&D

One measure of the capacity of businesses to absorb advanced knowledge is the employment of R&D staff. Evidence shows notable across-the-board increases in business resources devoted to R&D between 2010-11 and 2013-14. These were driven by hiring in small and medium-sized firms (with up to 199 employees). However, between 2013-14 and 2017-18 large firms (with 200 or more employees) cut roughly 8,000 R&D-related jobs, which was only partly offset by further hiring in small and medium business in the period (up around 4,000 and 1,000 R&D-related jobs, respectively). By resource type, the main impact of these changes has been felt by researchers, whose employment in business declined from around 39,100 person-year equivalent in 2013-14 to roughly 34,600 in 2017-18. The most recent data shows a tentative increase over the two years to 2017-18. It is possible that the longer-term pattern is related to a general shift away from large firms towards small and medium firms, accompanied by a shift away from Engineering towards Information and Computing Sciences, as seen in the data by field of research.[105]

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4.2.2 Government human resources devoted to R&D

In any sector, researchers are the main subset of the total human resources devoted to R&D. Important non-research functions related to the conduct of R&D are performed by personnel including technicians and support staff. In the government sector across both Commonwealth, state and territory governments, researchers consistently account for around half of total government human resources devoted to R&D (7,483 person-year equivalent out of 14,733 in 2016-17). Commonwealth human resources devoted to R&D — including not only researchers but also technicians and support staff — peaked in 2012-13 at 9,820 person-year equivalent before declining to 8,000 person-year equivalent in 2016-17.[106]

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4.2.3 Higher education human resources devoted to R&D

Total human resources devoted to R&D by the higher education sector increased from just over 40,000 person-year equivalent in 1994 to more than 79,000 person-year equivalent in 2016. Roughly 6 out of every 10 of these resources are postgraduate students, and this proportion has remained broadly steady over the recent two decades. One compositional trend worth noting is the increase in the proportion of academic staff (from 25.5 per cent to 30.5 per cent of total) and the commensurate reduction in the proportion of technical and other staff (from 19.5 to 12.3 per cent of total) over the period.[107]

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