I was very happy to spend the day with the Deans and Directors of Creative Arts (DDCA) a couple of Wednesdays ago for their annual conference and AGM. There have been some interesting submissions coming from this group to major reviews that are currently underway including the ACOLA Review of the Research Training System and the Watt Review of Research Policy and Funding Arrangements (lots of credit to Su Baker and Jenny Wilson).

My panel session was dedicated to strategic questions around positioning of Creative Arts research in relation to emerging discussions in research evaluation. For me, one of the most pleasing aspects of our discussions on the day was how comfortable people were with the idea of engaging with research end-users. It seems that a strong grounding in creative-practice makes a focus on research engagement a natural fit; by their very nature performance- and exhibition-based research disciplines are audience/end-user-centric.

The issues I foresee for these disciplines in a research-engagement paradigm have less to do with outlining the importance of research engagement and more to do with how these transactions operate within Creative Arts disciplines. Three key issues are outlined below.

 

Performance and exhibition spaces as research infrastructure – since the introduction of ERA there is widespread acceptance that live performances, original creative works, curated works and recorded/rendered works (can) meet the definition of research. It is no great leap that the galleries, museums and performance spaces that support these research activities are therefore important research infrastructure. Importantly, funding received to support these infrastructure should be submitted as part of the HERDC return for institutions – my sense is that this is a discussion that still needs to be had in a number of institutions. Here is the relevant description from the HERDC guidelines:

Net receipted  income which can be included in the Research Income Return […] grants for specific and specialised equipment used for the conduct of research
In-kind support – in-kind support is a mainstay of Creative Arts research funding , but is not eligible to be submitted under HERDC. There are a few potential approaches to address this:
  • The first is to lobby the Department of Education and Training  for in-kind support to be included in HERDC. I do not know the reasons why this is currently excluded, but I do know that comprehensive records of in-kind support are not recorded widely by universities. Further, my sense is that beyond a line in an ARC Linkage Grant, receipt of in-kind support is not uniformly applied.
  • A more complex approach would be to work closely with funding partners to see if ‘in-kind’ is the appropriate classification for this support, or if there are more appropriate ways to record this support (e.g. ‘donations’, which are eligible under HERDC Category 3 income). I admit to know very little about this, except that it is likely to involve taxation laws and employee arrangements (on both sides of the support) in addition to HERDC rules. Anyway, it is worth asking the question.
  • The most practical, but perhaps least satisfying approach is to accept that existing data (including ARC Linkage grants and Category 2-3 income) will correlate very closely with levels of in-kind support i.e. it would be uncommon to have significant amounts of in-kind support in the absence of financial support (I have no evidence to support this statement, but it can be easily tested by universities). As longs as any use of these data is sensitive to different practices between disciplines then there should be no problem with using financial indicators as a proxy for in-kind support i.e. comparing Category 2-3 Creative Arts research against Medical research is not fair, but comparing Creative Arts Cat 2-3 research income between universities is ok.

Consulting, contracting and commercialsiation – many Creative Arts researchers in academia maintain active professional careers in practice. At present, much of this activity is conducted by individual academics under personal ABN/ACN arrangements, and therefore is not eligible for reporting under HERDC where income has to have been transacted through the university. In some cases this is unavoidable – e.g. where funding bodies only support individuals or corporations (and not universities) – but in some cases there is no technical reason why this is the case. There are possibly very good financial reasons that an academic would choose to receive this income outside of the institution, including that universities usually take a cut of this income to recover costs. I personally contend that if the work is done on the university’s time and/or with their resources (computers, offices, studios etc.) then this income should be transacted through the university, and not through a private company or other arrangement. But that is me, and there are is plenty of room for compromise on such issues within universities. There are likely also some discussions to be had about IP but again universities can be nothing if not flexible on such things.

 

Addressing these three key issues alone will, in my view, hugely benefit Creative Arts research in Australian universities. As far as I can tell, researchers in this field have to address some minor misalignment but overall a focus on research engagement suits the kind of work that they have always done.