Home | Industry & Research | Obscure research could be funded under new government metric

Obscure research could be funded under new government metric

Sarah Hanson-Young: “Code for cuts is what this is.”

Simon Birmingham: “Sarah, you might love esoteric little papers, but we actually think that it is important that billions of taxpayer dollars going into research delivers things that are of benefit to taxpayers.”

This snarky exchange on ABC Radio Adelaide between the Education Minister and the Greens’ Senator was actually about the government’s new research metric. Announced today, it will measure the impact of university research on business.

Birmingham stressed the metric won’t mean individual projects, like UniMelb’s ‘the fate of the artisan in revolutionary China’ are given the green or red funding light. Rather, “…it’s really about trying to create a change in the incentive to the universities…”

He added that although our research output is prolific compared to other countries, we are “amongst the lowest in the world for actually translating that research into commercialisation”. Curiously, a June 2017 IP Australia report essentially found the opposite.

But, whether the government’s approach is heavy-handed or not, universities seem ok, if not pleased with it. Peak body Universities Australia welcomed it warmly, noting that it incorporates sector feedback. Its pilot trial was based on 300 submissions from 39 universities.

Chief Executive Belinda Robinson said the metric presents universities with an opportunity to showcase their work to the public. “Many already know about university inventions like Gardasil or spray-on skin, but there are so many more gems that are certain to be unearthed.”

Despite claims that some research, like the above-mentioned Chinese artisan project, doesn’t merit funding, she stressed the fact that, due to the requirement for peer review, “only the very best research is funded.”

In 2014, Australian research was valued at $160 billion – equal to almost a tenth of our GDP.

Research from all universities will be assessed commencing next year.

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