Long-term funding is the missing piece of the Research Infrastructure puzzle: IRU’s response to the 2016 Draft National Research Infrastructure Roadmap

The 2016 National Research Infrastructure Roadmap identifies the priority research infrastructure for the coming decade in nine focus areas that will underpin research in which Australia excels. This should deliver long-term national benefit and foster strategic international partnerships for Australia.
IRU supports the Draft Roadmap’s nine overarching recommendations and the nine identified national research infrastructure focus areas. Two issues remain.
1. Long-term funding is the missing piece of the Research Infrastructure puzzle. For this Roadmap exercise to be meaningful, the Government must resolve the funding issue. The $3.7 billion from the Education Investment Fund (EIF) should be part of the equation.

2. Hosting for world-class research infrastructure should intentionally be spread across Australia.

An abridged version of the document below was submitted by the IRU to the consultation on the 2016 Research Infrastructure Roadmap.

IRU Equity to the fore as two leaders awarded NCSEHE Equity Fellowships 2017

The Innovative Research Universities (IRU) congratulates its members who were awarded two of the three National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE) Equity Fellowships for 2017.

IRU award winners are Associate Professor James Smith, Program Manager of the HEPPP ‘Whole of Community Engagement Initiative at Charles Darwin University (CDU) and Mr Matt Brett, Senior Manager of Higher Education Policy at La Trobe University.

The Equity Fellowships are funded by the Department of Education and Training under the Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Programme (HEPPP) ‘to undertake strategic, high-impact, high‐profile leadership projects targeted, sector-wide, at improving the access, participation and success in higher education of students from disadvantaged backgrounds.’ (NCSEHE 2016).

The awards were announced today by Minister for Education and Training Simon Birmingham at the ‘Facilitating an Innovative Future through Equity 2016 National Research Forum’ hosted by NCSEHE at the National Press Club.

Associate Professor Smith has extensive experience working in executive and senior management roles in health and education sectors in government and non-government settings across the Northern Territory. Much of this work relates to improving Indigenous health and education outcomes.

Mr Matt Brett’s Fellowship will focus on equity performance and accountability systems and approaches. Mr Brett is co-editor and co-author of ‘Student Equity in Australian Higher Education, 25 Years of A Fair Chance for All’.

Ms Louise Pollard, Manager of the Aspire Program at the University of Western Australia, was also announced as an Equity Fellow for the coming year.

Through their year-long Fellowship, the Equity Fellows will work with the Department of Education and Training and the sector on projects that will identify equity issues that affect the Australian higher education system and develop approaches to address these issues.

As the university group most focused on ‘inclusive excellence’, the IRU is proud of its support and record in striving for equity and excellence in higher education for all.

 

Structural Review of NHMRC’s Grant Program: IRU Submission

The restructure of Australia’s health and medical research grants must retain the focus on supporting optimal research leading to the best possible health and medical outcomes for all Australians .

The individual submissions of IRU member universities provide a detailed assessment of NHMRC’s proposed three models.  While raising a number of interesting options, our conclusion is that a better model is needed such as the Griffith model four that is structured to achieve the desired health outcomes rather than the desired outcomes for medical research careers.

IRU supports the approach of restricting the number of grants held by Chief Investigators but argues that this is not yet suitable for Indigenous health research and that it creates issues for researchers from enabling disciplines.

Read the IRU submission downloadable here.

Read the IRU members’ submissions here: Griffith University, (model 4), Flinders University, La Trobe University and CDU.

Let’s focus on achievable, useful changes

Innovative Research Universities (IRU) congratulates the Liberal National Coalition on its return to government following the 2016 election.

IRU looks forward to continuing to work with Senator Simon Birmingham, whose reappointment will allow continuity in developing a revised Government approach to supporting an effective Australian university system that meets the needs of all Australians for well-educated graduates and valuable research.

We also welcome the newcomers to the Industry, Innovation and Science portfolio namely Minister Greg Hunt and Assistant Minister Craig Laundy as well as Senator Nigel Scullion who retains the Ministry for Indigenous Affairs.

The next three years will continue to be challenging.

The Government’s fiscal challenge remains clear.  Expenditure on universities and students will be examined as much as other areas.  However, without the necessary resources from Government, students and business, universities will struggle to continue to deliver excellence in teaching and learning and research.  A major cut to funding is not a useful way ahead.

We need to concentrate on achievable, useful changes that improve how universities operate, and step back from articulating major reform packages that cause much debate but little change.

For this to occur, all sides of the Parliament need to focus on constructive consideration of potential changes.

IRU supports focus on internships for researchers

Innovative Research Universities (IRU) supports the Coalition’s $31.2 million commitment in internships and post-school career advice for women and girls aiming to pursue a career in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).

The IRU has consistently called for the need to improve opportunities for researchers to work in industry and for career paths that move between industry and other settings.  Hence the focus on internships for female PhD researchers is commendable.  IRU equally supports the goal of improving gender equity in STEM, in line with the Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) programme.

“Such initiatives have the potential to enhance much-needed links between industry and researchers.  We look forward to industry taking up the challenge to make this successful,” said Professor John Dewar, Chair of the IRU group.

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 For comment contact: IRU Marketing and Media Advisor, Jo Smith M: 03 9479 2134/0403 222 528

Breaking the impasse – an effective process to assess Engagement and Impact: IRU Submission

The strong support for measuring the value of university research for end-users has been hindered by the lack of a viable way to do so.  Discussion is caught between the difficulty of ascribing meaning to an array of data sets, many of which are highly subject to manipulation, and the lack of breadth in an assessment of particular case examples.

Previously, in its policy statement ‘Measuring Research Value for End Users’, the IRU argued  that judgment by a panel of relevant people is crucial to creating a plausible rating of performance with the panel working through the data and individual examples put forward.  That proposal still lacked clarity about the focus of the assessment.

At page 15, the Australian Research Council (ARC)’s consultation paper gets to the essence of how to resolve the impasse through its proposal that a “focus on the processes or approaches to impact used by universities may be more appropriate”.  Under this approach, to make an assessment, the panel would consider a set of information about how the university is engaged with end-users as well as evidence of the value of those interactions for the end-users. The inclusion of short vignettes highlighting individual and verifiable impact stories would work as exemplars demonstrating the pathways to impact.

The approach would move away from the researcher-centric attempt to track individual research outputs over a period from idea to application.  If Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) assesses the value of the research as judged by fellow researchers, an engagement and impact measure should focus on the value for end-users. 

To be meaningful, this engagement and impact measure must rise above a set of data indicators to encompass a knowledge-based judgement of the value of research for end-users.

A number of iterations over different rounds will probably be necessary until an optimal measure is developed.

Overview

The IRU submission to the ARC Engagement and Impact Assessment Consultation Paper covers:

  • the purpose of creating an assessment of engagement and impact with end-users;
  • the importance of having a focus on end-users in designing the assessment;
  • key aspects for the assessment process;
  • amendments to the proposed principles; and
  • a response to the various questions the Consultation Paper poses.

Full submission attached below (7 pages).

A Timely Focus on University Research Funding

Labor’s pledge to restore university research funding is a step in the right direction. It focuses the lens on the importance of underpinning Australia’s research capability, a critical component of the transitioning Australian economy.

IRU supports the commitment to restore funding for key research programs.  This builds on Labor’s argument that Government should be the major funder of universities.

Programs such as Co-operative Research Centres have provided a valuable platform for universities, industry and other research end-users to work together to address important issues and have contributed towards increasing industry driven research.

“Such initiatives are worthwhile,” said Professor John Dewar, Chair of the Innovative Research Universities (IRU) group.  “We are reassured by Labor’s commitment.   This will enable IRU’s research –intensive universities spread across Australia to continue to deliver outstanding research.”

Sharper Incentives: proposed changes and rules for Research Block Grants – IRU submission

The essence of the 2015 Watt Review of Research Policy and Funding Arrangements proposals for research block grants is that universities should be responsible for the use of funds against the two prime purposes of supporting the universities’ research output and supporting research students.

The consultation paper ‘Sharper Incentives for engagement: New research block grant arrangements for universities’ poses many options that would diminish the simplification the Watt report proposes, particularly for the new Research Training Program.  Many of the options raised hold back from giving universities the responsibility to use the resources provided in the way they consider best to generate future research outcomes, with further funding dependent on success.

The IRU approach on the new programs’ requirements is to oppose rules that only express conservative good practice and to support those integral to achieving key policy aims for the two programs. The areas where we agree that full university flexibility for the Research Training Program should be moderated by other considerations are:

  • to maintain the focus on research degree completions by limiting the period of support a student can receive;
  • to ensure that student stipends ensure both a minimum reasonable level of support and also avoid the appearance of unnecessarily generous levels of support for some individuals.

On program reporting, the IRU approach is that it should be structured around the collection of relevant research outputs through an agreed regular national data collection with minimal collection of expenditure uses.  The draft guidelines also require amendments.

Read full submission attached (6 pages).

IRU Responds to Labor’s Plan for Budget Repair

The Labor ‘Plan for Budget Repair’ maintains Labor’s pledge to reverse any reductions to the base Commonwealth Grant Scheme crucial to universities’ education and research delivery. This will maintain base funding at the 2012 levels indexed.  This commitment is fundamental to Labor’s argument that Government should be the major funder of universities.

The statement includes several items that affect universities and students.  These are:

  • changes to the annual indexation measure to use the Consumer Price Index (CPI) only rather than a mix of CPI and professional wage growth;
  • reduction to the threshold for repayment of Higher Education Loan Program (HELP) amounts;
  • accepting tightening of the Research and Development (R&D) Tax incentive; and
  • reducing funding to Industry Growth Centres and abolition of the Innovation Xchange.

The change to indexation will toughen the challenge for universities to deliver at the standard required through tightening the funding available.

The change to the HELP repayment threshold is of less concern. The base threshold has been reduced and raised several times without effect on university participation. In the balance of ensuring all potential students follow their aspirations and having reasonable levels of HELP repayment these changes can be supported.

The changes to the R&D Tax Incentive sidestep the key issue about the Incentive. We need to move on from the constant battle between tightening and loosening eligibility to focus the Incentive at research that uses the research capability in universities and other research agencies.  If elected to Government, Labor should look to the yet to be released report from the Chief Scientist and Head of Innovation and Science Australia which addresses how to make the Incentive work to optimum effect.

IRU supports the Industry Growth Centres as potentially valuable means to link smaller businesses to research and management support that will assist them prosper. It is too early as yet to tell how effective they will be.  Reducing the small amount of funds for the Centres will make it harder to determine what impact they could have.

Overall the changes allow Labor to prioritise funding without doing major harm to university education and research.
Download the statement below.

Medical Research Future Fund 5 Year Strategy – IRU submission

The MRFF five-year strategy should focus on:

  1. Research that leads to improved and equitable health outcomes across Australia. This can be achieved through targeting:
    • the translation of health research;
    • issues relating to health systems and the efficiency of delivery for indigenous Australians and migrants; and
    • research carried out in Australia’s outer metro and non-major urban regions
  1. Research aimed at improving the efficiency of Australia’s healthcare system.

Read full submission below.