Introduction



1 Context Setting


Idyllic HE past, threatened by a new reality of metrics, impact, etc. Or is it? The reaction to "impact" vs. freedom to research may be too reactionary. It cuts to the core of research ethic.

1.1 Research funding, research excellence and research "impact"

ERA as an overarching research funding strategy. This model, which replaces the RQF, coincides with the introduction of a new research framework in the UK, the Research Excellence Framework (REF). Australian higher education has a long history of looking at the UK for guidance on research policy and it is most likely that the REF will have an impact on the yet to be finalised ERA.

What is uncontroversial about the ERA and REF is their emphasis on funding research excellence. The difficulty is to determine what "excellence" means in the context. One problem with REF predecessor (the Research Assessment Exercise) is the overhead involved in quantifying research excellence. For the amount of research money disbursed a large overhead would defeat the original intent since it will end up reducing the total pool of funds. The ERA and REF, therefore, aim to have a light structure with minimal involvement of committees and lengthy processes.

One result of the new structure is the introduction of an assessment criterion called research "impact". It is not entirely clear at the moment what that is. However, we know that it involves the assessment of recent research (in say the last 5-10 years) by lay-people from outside academia. This, it seems, will be done via opinion surveys and by the presence of a "user" sitting on the funding boards. There are two risks involved in this development: first, some research areas are not very good at making their research impact (outside of academia) explicit. This means that some disciplines who will be asked to give a "narrative" of their impact will simply fudge it. The second, is that the exercise has the potential of turning research excellence into a beauty pageant based on the short-term benefit of research. This, of course, risks severely underestimate the long-term value of particular branches of research.

On the other hand, some research disciplines that might have "impact" or even widespread public support ought not automatically qualify for continued funding(e.g. Eugenics, shampoos and skin care products, Macroeconomics?). Taking those considerations together, it is clear that "impact" is neither a necessary nor sufficient factor in judging the potential of research and does not seem to be a promising (partial) criterion for research funding. A number of academics have already highlighted this gap between what impact describes and what is supposed to achieve. Their response has been, by and large, to base research funding within specific research fields on research excellence (as judged by a peer reference group).

On the other hand, most do not dispute that more money ought to go to research that has the potential to directly benefit society on the long term. Medicine, biology and engineering are some of the obvious choices here. It is much harder, though, to anticipate which sub-disciplines have more promise than others; hence we need to develop some proxy measures of what and how that might be. Furthermore, we need to also acknowledge that scientific "products" -discoveries and inventions- do not, on their own, produce direct benefits to society. There is a necessary crucial step wherein inventions and discoveries need to be adequately prepared and promoted to turn into successful societal or business innovations. And most scientific products, it turns out, fail to make that leap.

To assure the societal contribution of science, therefore, it is necessary to assure the success of this 2-step process: lively internal mechanisms of discovery and invention and well-integrated process of knowledge transfer within a larger innovation system. Science and technology research lies at intersection of the academic realm and the innovation realm. It inherits features common to both but can also be perceived as standalone "nearly-decomposable" unit.

1.2 S&T research as a nearly-decomposable unit


Australian S&T research is part of but separate from the Australian national innovation system
Australian S&T research is part of but separate from the worldwide S&T research system
Qualitative
commonalities
and differences
Relationship between Government and HE (HE as public institution)
Government taking on a stewardship position
Funding model is different from other leading research countries
Lack of strong, longstanding research policies (a la Haldane Principle)
Quantitative
communalities and differences
Rather strong ties between academia and public sector
Rather weak ties between academia and private sector
Rather small contribution of academic to Australian innovation
Low rate of research commercialisation (conversion from academic work to a product/service)
Strong influence of international factors (students, research collaborators)

Australian S&T Research Stakeholders



What stakeholders offer to Australian S&T research
What Australian S&T research can offer stakeholders
Non-academic Stakeholders
From the public sector: provides funding, sets research agenda
From the private sector: provides funding, technology transfer opportunities
From the general public: political support
To the public sector: evidence-base policy
To the private sector: technology and knowledge for new business opportunities, increased effectiveness, increased efficiency
To the general public: increased awareness of scientific, societal and environmental challenges, provoke societal change
Academic Stakeholders
From students: financial support, research potential
From non-Australian S&T research: research collaboration (cutting-edge research, strategic alignment of research)
From non-S&T Australian research: research collaboration (inter-disciplinary and new research opportunities)
To students: effective and cutting edge education, environment and tools to promote and foster research opportunities
To non-S&T Australian research: research collaboration (scientific-basis to arts and humanities research)
To non-Australian S&T research: research collaboration (local expertise)

Public Sector
The government approach, until recently at least, as been characterised by the view that public universities are "service providers" (the service in this case being producing graduates) and ought to be treated accordingly. This raises the real possibility of creating universities that are strictly that: completely engaged in the mission of producing graduates at the detriment of research (which would then be perceived as a non-reimbursed cost).
Do universities perceive themselves as service providers? Ought they? Can research find a place in a service provision framework?

Private Sector
Commercialisation Australia: established in 2010 as a multi-stage funding process for moving innovations from research to commerce. It is based on a discussion paper released by the government that highlights the poor record of commercialisation in australia and the need for government support for such efforts. There are three important assumptions in play here: that research has a poor commercialisation record, multi-stage funding promotes the most promising innovations, and that publicly funding these efforts will improve the commercialisation record. We will revisit these three assumptions in light of the available empirical data.

Public
There has been a long-standing scepticism of "academics" amongst the Australian public (the term "academic" colloquially denoting a disconnect with the pressing matters of day-to-day life). However, research is indubitably an important activity that need to be supported by the public. In the first instance, the cost of missed research opportunities are not only carried by the research community but the community at large since they also miss out of the immediate and long-term benefits of such research. On the other hand, it is clear that the public is more consistently supportive of some areas of research more than others regardless of their success or relevance.

Students
Increasingly, the central government is perceiving public research institutions as arms of the public sector. Hence, they are subject to the same pressures other public service department are subjected to in terms of increasing effectiveness and efficiency. But therein lies a paradox. Public universities perform the dual tasks of conducting research and producing generations of tertiary-level graduates. Government funds the teaching-side of universities using block grants (regardless of teaching quality or efficiency - which usually advantages more established and larger universities) and funds the research-side of universities using competitive grants (with a relatively low success rate which usually disadvantages younger and smaller universities).

What is missing in this picture is the observation that research requires a constant stream of new talents researchers. The pool of future researchers are, for the most part, today's students. But an increased emphasis on "skilling" and commodification learning means that students spend less time on campus and less time engaging with research at the undergraduate and postgraduate level. On the other hand, the lack of cradle-to-grave support systems of researchers means that a large number of the brightest researchers are lost to overseas research institutions. This "brain drain" is not sufficiently compensated for by incoming foreign researchers.

Non-Australian S&T Research
It is often more competitive than Australian research. Nevertheless engaging with it offers Australians "a seat at the table" especially if they are attached to funding monies. Nevertheless, it does not necessarily make up for Australia-specific needs which means that Australia need to pursue an independent research program. The potential benefit is to coordinate local and international effort to maximise the outcome of collaboration opportunities.

Australian non-S&T Research
Typically non-S&T research in Australia has less resource funding. But this does not mean that it has less research talent or research excellence. Indeed Australia is a world leader in a number of non-S&T disciplines. These can offer unexploited areas of research opportunities, in particular opportunities to integrate research disciplines and explore different dimensions of science and technology such as ethical considerations, social aspects, cultural manifestations, political ramifications and so on.

University Administrators
The management of research is not separate from management of teaching as they are both performed by the same institution, often by the same people.

3 Research Question and Methodology

What is the research question?
Contribution to knowledge

some insights about barriers can be gleaned from insights from the other side of the fence
three kinds of models: descriptive, analytic or predictive


4 Project Outline

The first chapter (Chapter 2) is motivates the project to embark on an investigation of Australian S&T research stewardship. The chapter opens with a brief historical overview of Australian S&T research then touches on a number of challenges that it faces. The chapter highlights to divergence between the historical expectations of the various stakeholder of Australian S&T research from what Australian S&T research currently offers.

The project is divided into three main sections: a conceptual section, an empirical section and an analytical section. The first section develops a conceptual framework on how to best understand the Australian S&T research environment and steward it. It addresses the question of how to craft stewardship policy whose aim is the long-term sustainability of the research and environment and that is based on the best available evidence.

The first chapter of this section (Chapter 3) discusses the two guiding principles behind a coherent stewardship policy for Australian S&T research. The first principle is the need to promote a research scholarship that based on promoting knowledge discovery, knowledge integration, knowledge application and knowledge transfer. The second is the need for an evidence-based approach that can be justified based on the best available empirical evidence on the status and the trends of research environment.

The second chapter (Chapter 4) highlights the current lack of a systemic assessment of to the research environment. To counter this, there is a need for a systematic collection of data on the research environment and for integrating them into a cohesive picture. To this effect, the project draws on a "systems science" view of the research environments with particular emphasis on the network aspects of the system's component. A discussion of the benefits (and potential pitfalls) of applying network theory to Australian S&T research is discussed.

The third chapter (Chapter 5) draws on the previous two chapters to outline the necessary tools needed to develop an evidence-based stewardship policy. The chapter introduces a two-dimensional "impact" matrix which describes the various ways the research environment could be assessed and subsequently modified. Borrowing from complex systems literature, the first dimension of the matrix classifies these areas using the three possible levels of granularity of the system: micro, meso and micro. The second dimension focuses on the traditional aspects of strategic governance: oversight, insight and foresight.

The second section of the project is of an applied nature. It uses current data about Australian S&T research to discover the structure, patterns and evolution of the environment. The data uncovered in this section corresponds to the information needs identified in section one. The resulting graphs and associated statistics will later provide the necessary evidence to make an assessment of the research environment and the policy to shape it.

The first chapter of this section (Chapter 6) describes the rationale behind what kinds of data to look for, data sources and their reliability and the various statistical and computational methods used to analyse them. Three types of data are sought for this purpose: data on research output, data on research funding and data on research collaboration. Data sources are various: national publication and patent databases are the sources for research output. The databases of government funding agencies are the sources of research funding. A mix of institutional repositories and university human resources databases serve as the source for research collaboration.

The second chapter (Chapter 7) reports on the data collected using the network graphs methodology proposed in chapter 4. The results are presented within the structure of the impact matrix described in chapter 5 to highlight how these graphs could be understood as reflections of different aspects of the research environment.

The third chapter (Chapter 8) is an analysis of the data detailing the evolution of the system over time. The dynamics of the research environment are see through the change of its network characteristics and how clusters form and disappear. In the next section, this data will put to the test some of the prevailing hypothesis and assumption about Australian S&T research.

The third section is an analysis of the current state of the Australian S&T research environment from the evidence collected in section two. This is done, first, by interpreting the available evidence using the methods discussed in section one. Later, a number of strategies to steward the system (some have already been advanced by other commentators, some are novel) are critically discussed and brought together into a stewardship framework. The framework, loosely based on how natural habitats are managed, is an attempt to cohesively manage the whole with the purpose of ensuring sustainability and fostering diversity.

The first chapter of this section (Chapter 9) is a survey of the literature on the current analyses of Australian S&T research environment. It identifies a number of hypotheses and assumptions about Australian S&T research which have led to a number of suggestions that aim to redress some aspect or other of the environment. The chapter investigates these assumptions and whether they are consistent with the empirical findings of section two.

In the second chapter (Chapter 10), the findings of section two are revisited and interpreted in light of an ecological organising principle. A number of stewardship principles to ensure sustainability are presented. These principles are borrowed from natural ecology research. The "health" of the research environment is assessed in ways reminiscent of how natural habitats are studied. Namely, it is claimed that the quantity and quality of relationships in the research networks (and how they change over time) represent a critical indication of how healthy and vibrant the environment is.

The third chapter (Chapter 11) synthesises the recommendations discussed in chapter 9 with the ecological principles of chapter 10. These are combined into an integrated stewardship model that is based on an analogy between the Australian S&T research environment and natural ecosystems. The Australian Research Ecosystem used the network tools and conceptual frameworks developed in the previous two sections to monitor and sustainably Australian S&T research.

The projects is complemented with a concluding section which summarises its finds and compares it with similar efforts outside of Australia. The first chapter of this section (Chapter 12) is a short comparative study of Australian S&T forthcoming research policy (Excellence in Research for Australian - ERA) with the United Kingdom's recent introduction of the Research Excellence Framework (REF). The aim of the study is to identify the potential impact these policies would have on the network structure of the S&T research environment. The final chapter (Chapter 13) is a discussion of future work on the S&T research environment that can be done using network tools and the ecosystem stewardship model. The chapter concludes with remarks that draw on the findings the comparative study and the previous sections of the project.