Realising the benefits of Australia’s world-class research system requires translation of its outputs into economic and societal benefits. The effective translation of research will be at the core of Australia’s future competitiveness and prosperity.
In mid-2014 a group of ATSE Fellows, concerned by the recently published data which showed that Australia was ranking bottom of the OECD when it came to collaboration between public and private sector researchers, set up a working party to develop a metric which would measure collaboration between university researchers, industry and other end users of their research. The group was alarmed by reports that the Excellence in Research Australia (ERA) exercise, while very desirable in its own right, was having the unintended effect of discouraging university- researcher collaboration with industry and other end users. The ATSE proposal was to use the income received from industry and other research end users to support research collaboration plus commercialisation income as the basis for an engagement metric. The proposal was welcomed in university, industry and government circles.
While there had been a number of previous proposals in Australia to use case studies as the basis on which research impact is measured, these proposals had not progressed because of the high cost associated with such exercises, difficulties around the attribution of impact, and the fact that such measures are a lagging indicator of university performance. Research engagement is a necessary condition for impact, and the ATSE engagement metric is a forward proxy for impact. The metric also aligns well with the measure used by the OECD.
From the outset, it was felt that it was very important that any metric developed had to be applicable and useful for the humanities, arts and social sciences (HASS) as well as science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. Accordingly, the steering committee membership for this project was expanded to include representatives of the four Learned Academies (Humanities, Social Sciences, Science, and Technology and Engineering), the Australian Research Council (ARC), senior researchers from the HASS, STEM and medical and health sciences (MHS) fields, and senior representatives of the key Commonwealth Departments (Education & Training and Industry, Innovation & Science). The Steering Committee met on two occasions face to face, three times by teleconference, and regularly electronically to comment on draft material. The project was named ‘Research Engagement for Australia’ (REA)