Thanks to Colin Steele and the Academy of Humanities for organising yesterday’s events at the National Scholarly Communication Forum. The program for the day is available here and my slides are attached at the bottom of this post.

The main thrust of my talk was:

  1. We have seen how Australian policy mechanisms based around publishing (the research quantum/HERDC and later ERA) have accompanied changes in academics’ publishing behaviours; in the case of the former Linda Butler has shown this clearly, and there is ample evidence for the latter.
  2. We are seemingly at the start of a shift in the social role of Australian higher education research – expenditure data show that in 2010 ‘applied research’ overtook ‘basic’ and ‘strategic basic’ research as the main activity going on in Australia’s universities.
  3. By contrast the policy drivers in higher education are focused on a ‘basic research’ paradigm of publication and grant-getting.
  4. There are many possible places to look for policy solutions to this – for example:
    1. providing greater proportions of funding through institutional block grants to support longer term, strategic planning in universities, and less through short-term project-based funding;
    2. increasing the numbers of researchers employed in industry to increase the firm-level absorptive capacity, to drive greater private sector demand for research, and to create new funding streams for researchers;
    3. provide more direct government funding of business R&D to stimulate the demand side and open up new funding streams for researchers.
  5. All of the above can be done by refocusing existing policy mechanisms and budgets, without having to ever think about changing the publishing behaviours of academics.

One surprising thing about yesterday’s forum was the consistent casual reference made to ‘the system’ – ‘the [peer review] system’, ‘the [research evaluation] system’, ‘the [scholarly reward] system’, ‘the [publishing] system’ etc. as though ‘the [disembodied] system’ is something other than the sum total of actions and social relations. For example, when we say that ‘the peer review system is broken’, what we are actually saying is that the way we review each others’ work is not working. My point is that to constructively change ‘the [higher education] system’ means understanding that it is not disembodied, that it is created in actions (at least in part those of academics!), and that in that lie mechanisms to bring about changes.


Policy drivers and publishing in Australian Higher Education Research- Tim Cahill, Scholarly communication forum (.ppt)