University researchers will be judged on the community impact of their work and the way they engage with colleagues and consumers outside the academy with confirmation the government’s long-anticipated relevance metrics will proceed next year.
Education Minister Simon Birmingham is making it plain this morning that he intends to link research outcomes and community service.
“Research is about discovery, but it also needs to be about directly tackling some of the issues Australia faces. These new engagement and impact assessment measures will give us a clearer view of what Australian researchers are achieving but will also help focus some of our brightest minds on how to help families and businesses,” Senator Birmingham says.
Today’s announcement marks the end of a long debate over how to assess the immediate community impact of research, and whether this should be a key performance indicator. Back in 2015 the Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering proposed a Research Engagement metric designed to extract performance measures from existing data sources (CMM April 24 2015). A strong case was made for using this exclusively, in place of the research publication model used for the Australian Research Council’s, Excellence for Research in Australia.
While initially slow to see the significance of what the government, wanted the research community also mounted a quiet but concerted campaign in defence of funding basic research, warning a focus on immediate outcomes reduces the opportunity for breakthrough discoveries.
Yesterday ARC observers were calling it a draw. The scientific establishment has kept research publication assessment for ERA 18 and the new research model announced today does not create an existential crisis for basic research. Nor is any funding attached.
However, Senator Birmingham has put the importance of applied research firmly on the agenda in a way sure to be noticed by hacks looking for “look at what taxpayer money is spent on” stories. The minister is also indicating that applied research has rewards. “By ensuring researchers outline the way they are engaging with businesses and industry and assessing the impact their work is having, these new measures will act as an incentive to drive more of that valuable work.”