Australian universities are eagerly awaiting the outcomes on the national research quality and impact assessment exercise. And it has been a long wait.
UNE’s Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) submission was finalised in May 2018, and the Research Engagement and Impact Assessment (EI) report, a new framework that tries to identify the real-world impact of research, was submitted to the ARC in July 2018. These submissions take a significant effort, involving many people from across our service units (Library, ITD, Research Services, HR, etc.) and Schools (ERA Champions, Impact Case Study Champions, etc.) and over a considerable time.
UNE’s ERA submission included, for assessment, 17 Field of Research (FoR) codes at 2-digit level, from Mathematical Sciences to Philosophy, and 31 FoR codes at 4-digit level. Over recent weeks, the Research Services team and I have conducted five ERA Roadshows to outline to all interested staff some of the detail of our submission, starting in the Faculty of Medicine & Health and, this week, finishing off in the Faculty of Humanities, Arts, Social Sciences and Education. With large attendances, I wish to thank all interested researchers and professional staff who came to the roadshows, and also wish to particularly thank both, Mel Abbott for seamlessly organising the events, and Geoff Hart for preparing all overview data and handouts.
At these roadshows I didn’t elaborate on the EI assessment, a first for Australia, which will attempt to rate research impact case studies to determine the contribution that research makes to society, the environment, health, economy, public policy or services, or quality of life, beyond contributions to academia. The exact methodology that assessment panels employed to undertake this remains unknown, undoubtedly cause for significant debate once outcomes have been released.
The effect of the new framework is to widen the standards on which research is judged. No longer is research excellence solely a matter of publishing in quality academic publications. It now also includes considerations of the social, economic, and environmental impact of research.
For the university sector, this requires a big cultural shift. In future, the EI reporting requirement will mean that from the outset of their projects, researchers have to plan a path to impact as part of their research framing. The UNE Research Impact Strategy 2025 provides guidance to support Faculty planning and researchers with this task. This Strategy, to be implemented over 2019, seeks to enhance our capacity to address regional development priorities through greater engagement and collaboration with our stakeholders.
For UNE, for us, it may again be timely to reflect upon Madgwick’s vision for this University, a place put with purpose in regional NSW. At last week’s VC’s Communication Day, David Miron put it this way:
“Madgwick clearly saw the benefits that a University would have to regional and rural communities, that it would belong to those communities, and he would have also been fully aware of the benefits to a community in terms of its research. If we expand Madgwick’s focus on the student to encompass the community to which the student belongs, then UNE’s research mission becomes clear. That UNE has a role in supporting its community through research and provide access and participation opportunities to the community to which it belongs.
Regional and rural communities are hurting, in terms of less services, social issues, environmental issues and economic issues. One could say that there is an erosion of social and economic equity in ‘our’ communities. Businesses and service providers all understand the power of research in shifting this imbalance. They see engaging with UNE as an opportunity to innovate, to maintain relevance and make impact in the communities they serve. UNE has a strong history of doing this, but it can and needs to do better, not because of the funding bottom line but because of its social responsibility.”
Let’s then reflect more deeply on our, the University’s, purpose (and contribution) to our communities, and the role our communities can have in our research, thereby creating opportunities for greater participation and social innovation. A clearly defined value proposition, along with a genuinely collaborative approach, can often be enough to bring communities together to discuss potential research opportunities. These experiences help build understanding and trust, which fundamentally, underpins the inclusive networks UNE seeks to develop with our community partners.
Let’s start implementing those actions and initiatives that will also help in educating communities in the role of research and how it can benefit them.