The report on the Pilot project of Research Engagement for Australia will be released soon, and I admit to being very happy that we (myself, ATSE and others) have managed to move the discussion of how we value and support university research away from the twin focus on ‘quality’ (as measured by ERA) and so-called research ‘impact’ (as per the UK REF) to now include research engagement. As outlined by the ARC Research Impact Principles and Framework:
Engagement describes the interaction between researchers and research organisations and their larger communities/industries for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge, understanding and resources in a context of partnership and reciprocity.
As we move further down this path, and as such ideas get adopted into new policies includingn the National Innovation and Science Agenda, we have to take care to ensure that we do not simply make ‘research engagement’ a synonym for ‘research industrialisation’, where research is motivated only by private profit, where research ethics are compromised etc. This runs the risk of breaking the civic pact of universities.
I am referring to things such as this recent case of Tamiflu.
In Australia, a first step would be for universities to make detailed research funding records publicly available through the HERDC. At present universities provide grant-level detail for grants provided by the Federal Government and its funding agencies and programs (so-called Category 1 income), but the same is not required for other public sector and private sector funding (Category 2 and 3 income). These data are already sitting in universities’ financial and administrative systems, and are already submitted in an aggregated format. Providing the more detailed version is likely a small additional burden, if at all, on the university sector. But the transparency that it would engender would be a huge step forward and provide a cost-effective safeguard against the kinds of issues posed by greater ties between our public research institutions and the private and government sectors that they can service.