A number of research and translation activities undertaken by universities are not fully captured in Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) and other measures of research output and quality. A parallel exercise to ERA is a welcome recognition of the wider role and contribution that universities make outside of the immediate academic milieu. Notwithstanding the significance of this exercise, it is of upmost importance that the value of basic research as an essential part of the research and innovation system, is acknowledged and retained.
The task of assessing engagement and impact is worthwhile, if complex and difficult. The key challenges are well captured by the consultation paper and there is a shared understanding that there is currently no definitive solution assessing engagement and impact and there are strengths and weaknesses to many of the proposed models.
UA strongly supports the paper’s focus on university ‘processes’ and ‘approaches’ to research impact in preference to pioneering impact metrics. While metrics may say something about reach, they would be highly contestable in their capability for providing a meaningful insight into impact.
In particular, UA notes that the success of ‘supply side’ policy initiatives such as the engagement and impact assessment will be limited unless supplemented by targeted ‘demand side’ incentives to encourage industry and other end-users to ‘reach into’ universities. Australian universities and end-users must work in close partnership if we are to create the new products, processes and industries needed to secure future prosperity. The involvement of end-users in the development of an engagement and impact assessment will be essential to the success of this initiative.
Irrespective of the approach taken, any assessment exercise should:
- balance the cost of the exercise against the benefit;
- focus on those activities that are under the control of universities;
- not impose an excessive administrative impost on universities;
- ensure there is sufficient involvement of research end-users in the assessment process;
- actively encourage and support interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary and multijurisdictional research;
- utilise a suite of indicators and measures that allow for a consistency of approaches across a multitude of research areas; and
- be reviewed upon completion to determine its fitness for purpose.