Research excellence is a significant contributor to global university rankings, reputation, brand recognition and media profile. Over the next decade, it’s anticipated that impact, engagement and translational activity will also be critical to institutional reputation, success and the capacity to attract research income and partners.
Improving our research performance is a priority. It can be achieved through strategic recruitment, supporting our up and coming staff, adopting long-term horizons for the development of critical mass in areas of research strength and ensuring internal resource allocations support research priorities.
Through the James Cook University Model a research-rich environment will be fostered, with the focus on conducting research that is excellent, impactful and relevant to the communities we serve and the tropics more broadly. The adoption of a grand challenges framework will encourage more research across boundaries, while also raising awareness of students and the wider community of the importance of research in solving real-life problems. This approach will also facilitate closer linkages between research and teaching, to create a distinctive teaching-research nexus, enhancing the student experience and potentially encouraging more students to pursue higher degrees.
To achieve this there must be a commitment to ‘patient capital’ - building and maintaining critical mass, capacity and performance in focus areas over long-term horizons. To focus and articulate the intersection of grand challenges and the tropical themes, we will not be starting from a blank piece of paper as there is a well-established bedrock of expertise, critical mass and excellence particularly, but not exclusively, in the Fields of Research rated 4 and 5 in ERA. We need to invest strategically in both staff and infrastructure and establish partnerships in these and other niche areas to develop a platform for the future. Partnerships, domestically and with overseas organisations, present a vital opportunity to increase our ‘critical mass’ in areas of strategic importance, and simultaneously lend support to our objective to increase engagement.
More weight must be given to how new academic recruits will supplement existing and emerging areas of strategically aligned research strength. This should entail a consideration of how potential opportunities to leverage existing institutional strengths and/or develop synergies with research programs in centres and schools can be achieved through recruitment. Furthermore, there needs to be a more proactive approach to succession planning, particularly in our established and developing areas of strength.
That a culture of research excellence be strengthened and given effect through the following strategies:
Long-term investment in staff and infrastructure to support the research agenda;
Remove structural and financial barriers that hinder inter-disciplinary, multi-disciplinary or trans-disciplinary research;
Introduce more explicit and ambitious performance expectations in respect of research;
Assist staff in the ‘translation’ of their research, including the commercialisation of research outcomes;
Identify areas of existing or potential research strength and develop and recruit staff to further build capacity in these areas;
Discontinue investments in research areas which do not align with the Strategic Intent and where existing research is below world standard;
Adopt a default standard that staff appointed at Level B and above have completed their PhD at time of appointment; and
Revise workload models to encourage staff participation in research.
Higher Degree Research Students are the engine of a research university and completions and load are significant performance indices in the research block grants. In addition, the alignment between research training and our areas of established research strength is seen as one index of research training quality.
Completions and load have been in decline for some time and on the present trajectory, we will not have the HDR profile of a research university without significant additional investment in HDR stipend scholarships. As a proportion of total load, HDR load is presently below the average for Australian universities and is projected, on a ‘no change’ basis, to decline.
That additional resources be allocated to increase the amount of HDR stipend scholarships available to students who wish to pursue a PhD on a topic aligned to the Strategic Intent.
That our doctoral education program be redesigned to strengthen graduate skill sets, improve completion rates and times, and establish exit pathways for underachieving HDR candidates. Consideration should also be given to potential changes to entry pathways to a PhD.
In common with other research-intensive universities, we maintain a commitment to the nexus between teaching and research. In disciplines that are research-rich, the potential for students to benefit from direct exposure to the development of knowledge at the leading edge is most obvious. While we know this intuitively, there is value to be gained in documenting best practice, as a means to substantiate claims in support of the nexus and as a basis for improving praxis more widely across the University. Case studies are one prospective means of achieving this.
At the same time, there is the potential to do more in terms of developing the teaching/research nexus. In a useful review of how learning and research can be linked, Jenkins and Healey (2005) refer to the following typology:
Learning about others’ research
Learning to do research – research methods
Learning in research mode – inquiry-based
Pedagogic research – enquiring and reflecting on learning
In practical terms there are prospects for student participation through involvement in engagement activities with external stakeholders in research. In addition, students admitted to a proposed Honours College might have direct access to active researchers, including participation in projects. There is the prospect too, of opening up additional opportunities for students to have access to research-focused operations, including major research programmes/groups and research facilities (e.g., the Advanced Analytical Centre, field centres).
That specific proposals be developed to strengthen research-informed learning and to increase the exposure of students to our active research.