Introduction - Vision Validated
The results of Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA), the first nationwide assessment of research quality, augment the strong body of evidence that UQ is not only high on the pinnacle of Australian universities, but also outstrips world benchmarks. Among other things, ERA placed UQ well above or above world standard in more broad fields of discovery than any other institution. As well, we have more researchers performing in fields rated above world standard than any other university. The outcomes evince the quality of UQ staff and research students. Importantly, they also validate the vision of philanthropists, governments, industry, and all other allies in investing in UQ discovery.
ERA offers valuable lessons and has presented UQ with a new challenge and a great opportunity. The challenge is to lift our performance and be well above or above world standard in every field; the opportunity is to use the lessons from ERA to enhance our delivery of excellent discovery that carries social, health, economic, and environmental benefits.
The next test will be the 2012 ERA evaluation, and to hone our preparedness, the University has implemented a regime that includes tools such as Q-Index (which empowers every researcher to evaluate his or her research performance against groups of anonymous peers), and a detailed analysis of data from ERA’s first round.
ERA has not attempted to assess research impact – that is, how research assists broader society. Impact is tricky to measure, but valid proxies include engagement with industry, by which we mean private, public, community and notfor-profit organisations. At the very least, the level of engagement hints at the trust that a university has earned from private and public institutions. As well, effective engagement helps ensure that research is relevant to those who want and need its potential outcomes. In other words, engagement helps ensure that precious research dollars are well spent and yield high-impact returns to society.
So being the top university for combined industry and government funding in the latest round of Australian Research Council Linkage Projects grants (for example) equates with much more than bragging rights. It says something very positive about the trust that partners place in UQ. It gratifies and encourages staff and students, and strengthens their resolve to conduct excellent research. Excellent research links to high impact, and so there is a virtuous cycle.
These are some of the reasons why UQ gives increasing priority to mutually rewarding relationships.
Defying belt-tightening and natural disasters, many significant partners have forged research initiatives with UQ during the past 12 months. A snapshot of these includes:
- The Baosteel-Australia Joint Research and Development Centre, to be headquartered at UQ in concert with Baosteel (one of the world’s biggest steel producers) and three interstate universities Agreement by The Dow Chemical Company to sponsor research at UQ’s Australian Institute for Bioengineering and nanotechnology into sustainable chemicals, electronics and energy storage
- The Fangyuan Fellowship, through which a Chinese metals innovator funds research into next-gen copper smelting technologies, and
- Professorial chairs sponsored by the Australian Food and Grocery Council, the Social Research Centre and Thiess.
Future generations will appreciate the full impact of a gamut of new and continuing joint ventures, which target sustainability in global sectors such as energy, resources and manufacturing. A conspicuous example is our lead research partner role in Solar Dawn, one of the world’s largest solar thermal gas hybrid power plants to be built near Chinchilla with the support of the Australian Government’s Solar Flagships program and the Queensland Government.
Our researchers also have opportunities to advance global problem-solving via five new Australian Research Council Centres of Excellence. UQ will lead two of them (centres in Environmental Decisions and Engineered Quantum Systems) and is a collaborator in three others (centres in Plant Cell Wall Biology, History of Emotions and Quantum Computation and Communications Technology).
We salute our partners who see beyond the next shareholders’ meeting or election and recognise the imperative for highquality discovery and development.
Given their bedevilling fiscal and political settings, it was particularly refreshing to see both the Australian and Queensland governments hand down 2011–12 budgets that upheld earlier commitments to university research. The Queensland Premier, Anna Bligh, followed through during the Bio International Convention at Washington DC in June, with a series of pledges supportive of UQ research, including the Centre for Advanced Imaging’s biomedical research endeavours. More recently, she announced UQ would host the new Queensland Centre for Social Science Innovation, a grouping of the government and five universities.
At the national level, UQ is now awaiting decisions from the government’s review of universities’ “base” funding, and has an ear to discussions about the possible introduction of national impact metrics.
Both exercises have implications for Australian research capabilities, but one thing is certain: there will not be an eternal spring of government funding.
This reality compels UQ not to be a mendicant, but to perform to the utmost for every research dollar. The situation also means that the private sector, grassroots organisations and philanthropists – as opposed to governments – can be the key shareholders in epochal research.
By taking a proportionally stronger role in resourcing research, these partners may make decisive contributions to addressing some of the world’s most challenging problems.
Some key statistics about UQ research available from: www.uq.edu.au/research/index.html?page=52529"