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Discussion paper
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Executive summary

This report describes the commercial activities and examines the impediments and incentives facing humanities, arts and social sciences (HASS) researchers and educators at the tertiary level in Australia. It is a snapshot of who is commercialising research and how they approach this task, based on the findings of focus groups and questionnaires.

Mixed throughout the report are several case studies. These stories illustrate the tangible contribution and impact of the HASS sector in cultural, social and economic terms. The processes and benefits they set out are replicated a thousand times over in the humanities, arts and social sciences in Australia.

Services, such as research consultancy and contracting, were found to be the most common form of commercialisation amongst HASS researchers and practitioners, particularly in the area of government policy advice. This is supported by the finding that Australian and state government departments and agencies were the most frequently cited clients. The sciences, by contrast, tend to work on solutions to environmental and industry problems and creating new commercial opportunities.

The humanities, arts and social sciences are a broad and diverse field. Different disciplines face different issues in the process of commercialisation, and there are significant variations between disciplines in the sorts of commercialisation opportunities that they can pursue and the levels of financial reward they can generate. For example, the commercial possibilities, market arrangements and standards of practice in providing economic consulting or psychological counselling services are very different from those in the creative arts. Large tenders and grants are often available for research in the social sciences and education faculties, in contrast to the smaller grants more generally offered in the arts.

The benefits of commercialisation are reported as wide and varied. Commercial work enables researchers to improve their teaching and research as it gives them a better understanding of the needs of industry. It provides students with exposure to industry practices and research experience, a valued part of their training. For individuals, it can lead to a higher profile and enhanced promotional prospects, as well as improving business and negotiation skills. The economic rewards are also important: the money allows departments and faculties to fund research units, to hire staff, and to send researchers to conferences. It affords flexibility within a tightly-ordered university structure.

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