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The Strategic Rôle of Academic Research

Advice from the Australian Research Council (ARC) to the Australian Minister for Employment, Education and Training on ``The Strategic Role of Academic Research'' (February 1994), identified four major rôles for academic research:

As the single major source of direct Government funding for academic research, the ARC programs (totalling approximately A$250 million per annum) play a central rôle in shaping the scope and nature of academic research. It is therefore important for the Council to analyse the patterns of expenditure in its programs and to make adjustments to those patterns, to ensure that ARC supported research contributes at the highest possible level to the four major rôles of academic research.

To assist in the analysis, it is useful to differentiate the contribution of academic research into two aspects:

research conducted in the institution, as an integral part of each institution's activities; and

research conducted by the institution, as an integral part of the national R&D effort.

It is the second of these two aspects that is relevant to the (present) ARC programs. Of course the internal aspect is very important also, and is currently being considered by a joint working party of the ARC and the Higher Education Council.

This second aspect can itself be subdivided into two parts:

*international links
the rôle of academic research in maintaining the health of the disciplines and the contact with overseas research; and

*socio-economic objectives
the rôle of academic research and research training in providing the basis for R&D targeted towards specific socio-economic objectives.

During 1994, Council addressed the issue of the balance of funding across all the various ARC programs--covering grants, collaborative grants, postgraduate awards, fellowships, centres, infrastructure--and determined an appropriate balance, with due regard to the strategic objectives of each program.


Source: Australian Research Council 1995
Notes: The classification of Fields of Research (FOR) and also of Socio-Economic Objectives (SOE) are those used by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
The Australian Research Council has responsibility for the funding of research in all disciplines except clinical medicine and dentistry, which are the responsibility of the National Health and Medical Research Council (NH&MRC). In the non-clinical areas of medical science, support for research is provided by both Councils. A list of disciplines included in each field of research is included in the ``Australian Research Council Grant Guidelines''.

The challenge for 1995 and 1996 is to address the issue of the balance of funding across the disciplines. Put simply, the question is whether the balance of funding, shown in the figure above, is the most appropriate and effective allocation of funds to meet the twin objectives of maintaining strong links with overseas research, and of providing an adequate basis for R&D activities targeted towards national needs.

The International Aspect

The approach adopted here is to examine the balance of research output (i.e. publications) across the disciplines. This has been done by using the work of Professor Bourke and Ms Linda Butler in their ARC commissioned study ``International Links in Higher Education Research'' (May 1995). Unfortunately, this work (which is based on an analysis of journal articles referenced in the data-base produced by the Institute for Scientific Information) does not include the humanities and social sciences, because the data-base captures only a small proportion of the research output for these disciplines.

It is also worth noting that we have so far been unsuccessful in making credible international comparisons of research expenditure or human resources devoted to research (except for limited types of expenditure).


Source: Performance Indicators Project Database, Research School of Social Sciences, The Australian National University.

As an example of the data on publications, the above chart shows the distributions of research publications by field of research for Australian authors and total world authors. By this measure, Australia over-produces in Agriculture, the Biological Sciences, the Earth Sciences and the Medical & Health Sciences, but under-produces in the other fields.

Socio-Economic Objectives and Fields of Research

The second of the two aspects is equally difficult to tackle. Because the available data on R&D expenditure in Australia (collected by the Australian Bureau of Statistics) is not classified by field of research (FOR) for the business sector, it is necessary to look first at R&D by socio-economic objective (SOE). Council has done this over the last few months of 1995, in consultation with a number of organisations and individuals.


Note: For comparative purposes, the current and projected profiles are in percentage terms, not absolute amounts. It is also important to note that changes in the mix of activities are likely to occur within the sectors.

The end result of this exercise, shown above, is Council's projection of the likely distribution of total R&D effort in Australia for the year 2010. The choice of the year 2010 matches that of studies undertaken by ASTEC and the Business Council of Australia. It also enables adjustments to be made to ARC programs (if any adjustment is judged to be desirable) over the next few years in anticipation of future needs. This is clearly an important lead rôle for basic research, which is the `core business' of the ARC programs.

The analysis of possible shifts in R&D activity by SOE does not immediately translate into adjustments to the balance of funding by Field of Research (FOR). To assist in making this connection, the Council has commissioned the Centre for Research Policy, University of Wollongong, to undertake a study of the links between basic research and socio-economic objectives. The report of that study (in press) provides some useful insights into those links. These insights, together with input from other sources including the academic community, will assist the Council to arrive at a judgment on the desirable balance of ARC funding across the disciplines, from the perspective of this second aspect of the rôle of academic research as a contributor to the national R&D system.

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Next: Conclusion Up: How much Mathematics does Previous: Summary

Ross Moore