Title Education and Employment Legislation Committee
25/02/2015
Estimates
EDUCATION AND TRAINING PORTFOLIO
Australian Research Council
Database Estimates Committees
Date 25-02-2015
Committee Name Education and Employment Legislation Committee
Page 116
Questioner Carr, Sen Kim
CHAIR
ACTING CHAIR (Senator Ruston)
Responder Prof. Byrne
Ms Paul
Birmingham, Sen Simon
Mr Griew
System Id committees/estimate/58734856-0690-4249-98de-de5d3ce7d191/0005


Education and Employment Legislation Committee - 25/02/2015 - Estimates - EDUCATION AND TRAINING PORTFOLIO - Australian Research Council

Australian Research Council

[16:33]

CHAIR: Welcome, Professor Byrne, do you wish to make an opening statement?

Prof. Byrne: No, I don't.

Senator KIM CARR: At the Senate inquiry into the higher education bill and then at the last Estimates you indicated that the higher education changes and the Future Fellowships program were linked. You said the minister had made it very clear that the higher education legislation was coupled to the Future Fellowships scheme and to the NCRIS scheme. That was on page 32. You said at the time you were just reporting a statement that Minister Pyne had made in parliament several days ago, which was on 8 October. I just want to clarify this. Mr Pyne's statement in parliament was late September. When was it that you actually became aware of the link between the higher education bill and the government's attitude to Future Fellowships?

Prof. Byrne : I think that would have been probably the first clarification of the coupling. But I would have to say I could not pinpoint that time exactly.

Senator KIM CARR: It was around that time?

Prof. Byrne : Around-ish that time—yes, indeed.

Senator KIM CARR: When were you aware that the continuation of the Future Fellowships scheme depended on the passage of the higher education changes? At the same time?

Prof. Byrne : Again, discussions around various changes to our Future Fellowships scheme occurs before the budget. It was an NPP into the budget. We were involved in those discussions in the budget preparations. People are always having conversations about where the resource comes from. There is obviously linking of those things at various stages. But that, I think, was clarification from the minister of the coupling.

Senator KIM CARR: So you were aware of it prior to the budget?

Prof. Byrne : Again, we were not consulted directly about where that money comes from. We were consulted about the need for a Future Fellowships scheme. We articulated the need for that scheme, and that was accepted by the minister. We were not consulted on where the resources for that were to be found specifically, no.

Senator KIM CARR: When we met in October I did suggest to you that the bill would be voted down in the Senate, as, of course, occurred. What impact has that had on the ARC?

Prof. Byrne : As we indicated then, the Future Fellowships scheme is coupled to that, so we have not progressed with that scheme. We are in a very similar position now as we were then. You, Senator, probably have a better sense of how that legislation is going to go through the Senate than I do.

Senator KIM CARR: I take it you have advised the minister of the consequence for the Future Fellowships scheme?

Prof. Byrne : I have not specifically had the conversation with the minister, but I am sure the minister's office knows all of this.

Senator KIM CARR: You have had no direct conversation with the minister's office about the failure to be able to implement the Future Fellowships scheme?

Prof. Byrne : No, no. I have not had a direct conversation with the minister about this.

Senator KIM CARR: Sorry. The minister's office?

Prof. Byrne : The minister's office, certainly.

Senator KIM CARR: I was looking on your website for the important dates for the current schemes. I saw that the application process is underway for Linkage, for Discovery and for early career researchers. There is no information on the current round of Future Fellowships.

Prof. Byrne : No, there is not.

Senator KIM CARR: Why is that?

Prof. Byrne : As we talked about, it has been coupled to the broader bill. Until we get some clarity there, we cannot proceed on it.

Senator KIM CARR: At what point do you say there is not sufficient time for a Future Fellowships round?

Prof. Byrne : I would never give up. If we can get clarity of that bill soon then we can proceed with it. But until we get clarity—

Senator KIM CARR: I will put it to you that, on the available evidence, the clarity is there: the bill is not going to succeed. At what date is it no longer possible for you to continue with this current round?

Prof. Byrne : Again, that depends. We can commence a Future Fellowships scheme at any time that the minister allows us, consistent with the resources that we have available. There is no particular time associated with that particular scheme. There is a historical time associated with that. But we do not necessarily need to stick to that historical time for opening and closing that scheme.

Senator KIM CARR: There is a limit this financial year though, isn't there?

Prof. Byrne : Absolutely. We would have passed it for this financial year, certainly. We would not be able to run a process for future fellows and have the money out the door for this financial year.

Senator KIM CARR: So there are no Future Fellowships around this financial year?

Prof. Byrne : For the financial year 2014-15? No.

Ms Paul : This issue was created of course, because the funding was due to run out.

Prof. Byrne : Indeed.

CHAIR: Sorry, could you just flesh that out a little bit please, Professor?

Prof. Byrne : The Future Fellowships scheme when it was created was a terminating scheme. It ran for five years with an extension of one year and then it was scheduled to stop, and we are suffering from the consequences of it being a terminating scheme.

CHAIR: For those who are not familiar with that term, could you just explain what a 'terminating scheme' means in the budget context?

Prof. Byrne : Indeed, thank you. So many of our schemes within our Discovery Program like Discovery Projects are run every year, and the sector is used to having a selection around every year, and we have been doing that for as long as I can remember. The Future Fellowships scheme was warmly, widely accepted in the sector when it was created but it was created only for five years. So we ran five rounds of that scheme, and that was all that was established in the forward estimates for those fellowships. An additional round was provided for, so that allows us to provide six rounds of Future Fellowships, but, after that, the money does not exist and we cannot continue to offer it. So we have only ever been able to run six rounds of Future Fellowships.

Senator KIM CARR: So there will be no more rounds?

Prof. Byrne : The initiative of this government is to create an ongoing Future Fellowships system, which puts it on a level with the other schemes like our DECRA scheme, like our Discovery Scheme, that is there every year and gives stability to the sector.

Senator KIM CARR: But it cannot operate—you have got no authority to operate it yet?

Prof. Byrne : It is being coupled with the board, a degree, until we get some resolution—

Senator KIM CARR: What is to stop the government—

Senator Birmingham: Senator Carr, remember: you left no funding. You left no funding for this program.

Senator KIM CARR: I actually introduced the scheme—

Senator Birmingham: And you left no funding.

Senator KIM CARR: and provided five years of funding for the scheme.

Senator Birmingham: And it has run out. In the five years, it ran out, and you never had an extension on it

Senator KIM CARR: That is not quite right: I was not actually in the job at the time, but putting that aside—

Senator Birmingham: Oh, I am sorry: the government of which you were a member—although I know you disassociated yourself from it for some years of that government.

Senator KIM CARR: I just stated a fact. The fact is: you will not be operating a scheme this year or any subsequent year. Is that the case?

Prof. Byrne : No, I do not know the answer to that, and you asked me a question about this financial year. It is too late to run a scheme this financial year. I cannot say we might not run it this year. This year is 2015.

Senator KIM CARR: Sure. What conversation have you had about the next financial year's operations?

Prof. Byrne : Again, until we get clarity because of the coupling in the act, then there is little point me having that conversation.

Ms Paul : The budget initiative last year by this government was to make it—as Professor Byrne has said—an ongoing program. That is absolutely clear that the commitment is not to make it a terminating program but to make it an ongoing program of 100 a year. That relies on legislation, which of course is currently before the parliament.

Senator KIM CARR: Right, so there is no, no discussion about alternative legislation?

Prof. Byrne : No. Not with me.

Senator KIM CARR: Thank you.

Prof. Byrne : Not with me.

Senator KIM CARR: Sorry, not with you?

Prof. Byrne : Not with me, no.

Senator KIM CARR: Sorry, with the ARC?

Prof. Byrne : Not with the ARC.

Senator KIM CARR: Not with the ARC.

Prof. Byrne : Not with the ARC.

Senator Birmingham: Have you got an alternative proposal as to how you would fund it Senator Carr?

Senator KIM CARR: That is a matter for the government, and we are not supporting—

Senator Birmingham: And the government has presented a finding—

Senator KIM CARR: You will make the call and you will wear the odium for it.

Senator Birmingham: The government has presented a funding proposal which Labor never had. There was no funding proposal form Labor for Future Fellows or NCRIS, and the government has presented that funding proposal. It is transparent in the budget. It has been transparent in Minister Pyne's comments on the record since then. It has been transparent in comments made by Senator Payne at theses estimates hearings in the answers to questions. It has been a pretty transparent activity.

Senator KIM CARR: That is good.

Senator Birmingham: We want to provide the long-term funding but, like everything in this government, when we have to find funding for something we have to find it from somewhere. We do not just take it off the money tree like you used to think was acceptable.

Senator KIM CARR: Right. In the Campus Review on the 1 December, Professor Byrne, you have noted that the success rate for Discovery Project has fallen from 19.9 per cent in 2013 to 18 per cent in 2014. Is that correct? Have I understood that correctly?

Prof. Byrne : That is quite correct. That is the Discovery Project.

Senator KIM CARR: Can you run through the reasons for the fall in the success rate?

Prof. Byrne : There are two reasons for that. One is that the number of applications to the scheme was greater, and it is about half of that change. The other half is a consequence of the need to reprioritise money into a selected set of areas determined by the government.

Senator KIM CARR: What was the reprioritisation?

Prof. Byrne : The reprioritisation was funding for a number of initiatives—juvenile diabetes, tropical diseases and dementia—

Senator KIM CARR: What has been the consequence in terms of the fall in the success rate?

Prof. Byrne : The consequence is that one per cent of applicants did not get funded, which would have got funded in previous years.

Senator KIM CARR: Can you confirm that the ARC has maintained the return rate at around 64 per cent for 2014?

Prof. Byrne : It is approximately the same. I have a chart here that I am happy to table, if you would like me to.

Senator KIM CARR: Yes, thank you. I appreciate it.

Prof. Byrne : That chart shows both the success rates and the return rates for that scheme.

Senator KIM CARR: You say that a risk is created or a spiral of ambit in bidding if the return rate falls too low. In your experience, at what level does this behaviour start to occur?

Prof. Byrne : If you look at that curve, it is quite telling. In 2012 the return rate was 50 per cent. What that said was that, on average, we gave half the money that people requested for grants. I thought that was too low. When I came into the ARC, it was my view that that should be increased. That is what you can see from that curve. We have got it back up to a level that I think is more acceptable. As I said in that article which your referring to there, when we only give half the money, the natural inclination of the people asking us for money is to ask for more, and then we give them less. That spirals out of control very quickly. So I have been going around the country making it very clear—and, indeed, this is something echoing the Commonwealth grants rules and guidelines—that we should also be looking for value for money and to really get universities not to pay grants, not to ask for more, to be a lot more specific about what they are asking for and a lot clearer about why they are asking for that money. Our obligation, when we see grants like that, is to fund them as much as we can.

Senator KIM CARR: As you have noted, there is obviously a balancing act between success rates and return rates. Based on the current forward estimates, are you able to project what might happen if the return rate falls to about 64 per cent?

Prof. Byrne : The return rate so-called is around there, and I hope to keep it around there, but the success rate is going to keep dropping slightly. The consequence of that is that we are unlikely to see a significant increase in the money in our Discovery Project pool over the next few years, but we are seeing an increase in demand for that. Inevitably, the success rates are going to go down, and they are additionally going to go down because we have increased the number of grants which are now funded for five years. What that actually means is that we have a funding profile that now extends longer. When it comes to the point where we normally would have had the full resource available, we will find that we have already allocated some of that into longer grants. Longer grants in general is a good idea, but it comes at a cost and the cost is going to be against success rates. So our success rates are more likely to converge to the NHMRC, who are slightly ahead of us on the curve in terms of success rates.

Senator KIM CARR: There is some dispute about longer grant rates, but I will come to that in a moment. Are you aware that the United Kingdom's natural environmental science council has decided to cut the maximum size of grants in its bid to boost success rates? Are you aware of that/

Prof. Byrne : I was not aware of that, and I would not support it.

Senator KIM CARR: You would not support it?

Prof. Byrne : No, I would not support it.

Senator KIM CARR: So you have not considered that?

Prof. Byrne : Yes, I have considered it; but I would not support it.

Senator KIM CARR: And you have rejected it.

Prof. Byrne : Yes.

Senator KIM CARR: I see.

Prof. Byrne : Again, it is about this mix between trying to support research at a proper level and trying to spread the money out too thinly. I am not sure what their success rates are. I would guess—

Senator KIM CARR: What about 18 per cent?

Prof. Byrne : Comparable to ours.

Senator KIM CARR: Yes. That is the issue, you see. As I am advised, they have also decided to restrict the number of grant applications that can be submitted from one institution, because they think the 18 per cent success rate is too low. Have you considered measures of that type?

Prof. Byrne : Yes, we have considered measures of that type, and I have been talking with the sector quite significantly about institutions who give us grant applications that, in our view, are not up to standard.

Senator KIM CARR: So a restriction on the number of grant applications per institution is something then you would take seriously?

Prof. Byrne : I think that we have to consider very, very seriously those options. The EPSRC in the UK had an interesting model a few years ago where they actually prevented people from applying, for instance, if they had been unsuccessful in two rounds. Although they only applied it in a score of cases, it had a significant effect on applications. That is something, again, that we have considered. The difficulty there is that they run a much faster cycle of grants, and, if we were to prohibit people from applying, then we would prohibit them for a whole two years, which is a long time in a young person's academic career. So we do consider these options to try and deal with this problem of increasing demand from the sector, and that is what we are dealing with. Coming back to your very first question, half of the drop—a whole per cent—from 19.19 per cent to 18 per cent is just due to increased demand, and there is almost nothing that we can do about that.

Senator KIM CARR: Well, there is.

Prof. Byrne : We do consider options like saying to institutions, 'Only give us a certain number of grant applications', but if you think about the whole cycle of things, then you have to try and consider what is the most efficient way of running a process. You could say to institutions, 'Okay, run an internal process and decide what are your best grants and only put those forward, or give them all to the ARC.' There is an overhead or there is a cost for an institution to duplicate our processes in order to do that. So you have to look at the problem as a whole—you really cannot just consider one component of it—and try and determine what is the most efficient way of doing it.

Senator KIM CARR: There is an issue around the quality of grant applications, is that not the nub of what you said?

Prof. Byrne : Again, I am encouraging universities not to waste academics' time where they know their staff have little likelihood of success. Another enormous complaint that we get from the sector is that lots of hours of academics' time are spent reset applying for research grants. There is a whole pool of applicants who have really very, very little chance of success in the ARC scheme, particularly when our success rates are only one in five or smaller. Institutions do need to think about whether that is the best use of their academics' time. This is a problem for institutions. Is it a sensible strategy for an institution just to submit more grants? In my view, it is not. They should be a little bit more selective about what grants they put to us, because it does fill up the system, it does impose a bigger burden on us and it does impose a bigger burden on the selection process. This last year in selection processes, we sent out assessments to 22,000 people. We are imposing upon the system enormously. If there is a sensible way of moderating that demand, then the whole system may be a little bit more efficient. So of course we think about those issues all the time, and we have a lot of conversations with the sector about the best way to do this.

Senator KIM CARR: Professor Warwick Anderson recently made some comments in relation to the NHMRC, saying that there were too many highly trained medical researchers looking to build research careers compared with grants available to support their research. What is your response to that, given that you also distribute medical research grants?

Prof. Byrne : That is a very interesting response. One of the differences between the NHMRC and ourselves is that they are actually funding, from our perspective, one discipline area. If you look at a categorisation of research in terms of fields of research codes, there are 22 of those spanning from physics and mathematics to language and culture, and philosophy and religion. Medical science is but one of those. There is as much money in that medical science field of research code as there is in the ARC. The article that you refer to from Professor Anderson points to their early career researcher schemes. There are 135 researchers in their scheme, in the early career researcher schemes. So that is 135 researchers in one field of research code. Our comparable scheme in the ARC has 200 fellowships across 22 fields of research code. That is 10 per research code. So if you look at the balance between the spend in medical research compared to the spend across all other disciplines, I think Warwick is highlighting an interesting point. We could actually be investing in other areas of research more strongly.

Senator KIM CARR: In particular, he was not saying do not train more PhDs; he was saying to get a stronger industry focus. Do you agree with that assessment?

Prof. Byrne : Industry focus is one, but he was also talking about other dimensions to even help health research—things like bioinformatics and engineering—but also the broader scale of things, even around health research.

Senator KIM CARR: What are you doing to develop stronger industrial PhDs?

Prof. Byrne : One of the schemes that is having some good inroads to that area is the Industrial Transformation Research Program and specifically training centres. Those training centres are about specifically training PhD students to work in industry, post-doctoral students for working in industry. Each of those training centres has to have 10 PhD students working with an industry partner. I think that is a terrific scheme. I forget how many we have launched so far, but I will have that number for you shortly.

On top of that, the research hubs have specific linkages with industry. Again, there is direct and significant engagement by industry. On top of that, our linkage projects have connection with industry, and that is industry in the broad. These are very, very successful programs for linking with industry. Interestingly, 40 per cent of our centres of excellence scheme, which is a scheme actually which is about research in the broad, have a named industry partner on them and I think that is a triumph as well.

Senator KIM CARR: In an article in Australian Resources and Investment in December last year, you also talked about aligning these industry transformation research programs and proposed growth centres under the government's so-called competitiveness agenda. You noted that a number of these ITRP centres are focusing on making improvements in mining and engineering, including a $4 million ARC research hub for transforming mining value chain in Tasmania. How has the ARC has been involved in the consultations regarding the establishment of these so-called new growth centres?

Prof. Byrne : We have not been a major player in the development of those growth centres. The connection that we have there is that our priority areas for the Industrial Transformation Research Program are the same ones, as I understand, as for those growth centres. So we are seeing an alignment in that direction.

Senator KIM CARR: Has the funding for the Industrial Transformation Research Program been quarantined for use in growth centres or is there any—

Prof. Byrne : No. The funding for the Industrial Transformation Research Program was quarantined into the priority areas determined by the government which are the same, as I understand it, as the growth centres. This is something that we determined in consultation with the Minister for Industry and Science.

Senator KIM CARR: Have you had any discussion with industry about these growth centre processes?

Prof. Byrne : No formal discussions have been had with us, consulting us about the development of those industry growth centres.

Senator KIM CARR: None from the department?

Prof. Byrne : From the department.

Senator KIM CARR: Have you had any discussion with industry about the development of those centres?

Prof. Byrne : With industries, you mean, in general?

Senator KIM CARR: People who actually run big enterprises and stuff like that.

Prof. Byrne : Other than casual conversations, no formal conversations.

Senator KIM CARR: I am just surprised. Given that you have these transformation research programs operating, you have a number of other programs in this industry collaboration, why aren't you involved in the development of the growth centres?

Prof. Byrne : That is probably a conversation that should be directed to the industry portfolio.

Senator KIM CARR: Yes. It is not a question that you can answer. I understand that there is a review, an internal review, of the ARC centres of excellent program?

Prof. Byrne : Yes, there is indeed, and this is one of a number of internal reviews that we do run.

Senator KIM CARR: It is a standard evaluation, is it?

Prof. Byrne : Absolutely. On top of that, we run specific reviews of our centres of excellence on a regular basis and we have just—

Senator KIM CARR: But this is just a standard review process, this evaluation?

Prof. Byrne : Yes.

Senator KIM CARR: Have you completed the centres of excellence review yet?

Prof. Byrne : No. I was going to say that there are two that we are doing at the moment with regard to our centres of excellence. One is reviewing the centres themselves, and that process is nearly complete. I think the reviews of all those centres have been completed and the reports are back to those centres. But there is also a broader review that we are managing internally by our reviewing people of the centre's program itself, and that is underway.

Senator KIM CARR: Can we get access to these review findings?

Prof. Byrne : I think we will be publishing them, yes.

Senator KIM CARR: When will you be publishing?

Prof. Byrne : We really only have commenced it, so I do not see it before the end of the sitting.

Senator KIM CARR: I am thinking about the individual centres.

Prof. Byrne : We make them available to the centres. We do not actually publish them on the website. But I am sure the centres themselves would be happy enough to share them.

Senator KIM CARR: With that sort of invitation, what can I do? Regarding the knowledge translation metrics, can you advise the committee what is happening around the assessment of the so-called impact or knowledge translation? What is happening on that front?

Prof. Byrne : There are probably people later on better able to answer that because, if I understand you correctly, you are possibly referring to a working group being coordinated through ATSE, the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering. This is a program sponsored by the department, among other people, and maybe people in outcome 3 know a little bit more about it. I have been closely involved in the working group that is being coordinated by ATSE and I believe they are due to report back to the department fairly shortly.

Senator KIM CARR: Which department?

Prof. Byrne : Education and training.

Senator KIM CARR: There is no reporting in the industry department?

Prof. Byrne : There is certainly membership from the industry department on there as well.

Mr Griew : It is a program that we are sponsoring, but it is in collaboration with industry.

Senator KIM CARR: Is the project boosting the commercial returns from research part of your remit?

Prof. Byrne : No.

Senator KIM CARR: Are you having any consultation with that?

Prof. Byrne : We had various opportunities to make comments on things around that, but, again, it is run out of the agency.

Senator KIM CARR: Who is running that?

Prof. Byrne : The boosting is the industry.

Senator KIM CARR: Industry.

Mr Griew : You can ask more questions later also under outcome 3 about that if you want.

Senator KIM CARR: I am just surprised the ARC is not involved in that.

Prof. Byrne : Again, we do have conversations with members of that department, but we are not owning that process.

Senator KIM CARR: Yes, I have heard about them. But there is no formal process.

Senator Birmingham: I am not sure what that is meant to mean: 'I have heard about them.'

Senator KIM CARR: Well, I have.

Senator Birmingham: There seemed to be a tone to your suggestion that you have heard about them.

Senator KIM CARR: Thank you for your advice.

Senator Birmingham: The aim is to talk to each other.

Senator KIM CARR: I appreciate your depth of experience in this matter.

Senator Birmingham: Thank you for the condescension.

Senator KIM CARR: We would get a lot further if you did not intervene with idiotic remarks, Minister. You would get a lot further.

Senator Birmingham: Really?

CHAIR: Senator Carr, can you withdraw 'idiotic remarks'?

Senator KIM CARR: Withdraw what—that he has not made an idiotic remark?

CHAIR: It is a very subjective comment.

Senator KIM CARR: But it is a statement of fact.

CHAIR: Senator Carr, please!

Senator Birmingham: Honestly, Chair, I could not care less.

Senator KIM CARR: Thank you. An article that appeared in The Australian on 21 January said that the ARC does not want to go down the British route of case studies in regard to the development of impact measures. Is that accurate?

Prof. Byrne : I suspect it is a true reading of what I would have put in that article.

Senator KIM CARR: There was a 2013 case study pilot conducted by the ARC, was there not?

Prof. Byrne : It was not conducted by the ARC, it was conducted by the Group of Eight and ATN—the Australian Technology Network.

Senator KIM CARR: So it was a university study?

Prof. Byrne : Correct.

Senator KIM CARR: Have you had any chance to assess that?

Prof. Byrne : In what sense? Again, it is a study that I think we have learned a lot from. The more significant exercise in that area is the UK one. Again, there have been a lot of conversations between ourselves, running the ERA exercise, and HEFCE in the UK running that particular exercise, and there was a lot of learning from HEFCE in the UK looking at our exercise. I think that really did usefully inform them in their exercise. Indeed, there has been a very positive interaction between research assistant people in the UK and in Australia, and we have learned from each other as time has gone on.

Senator KIM CARR: What is your concern about the case studies approach?

Prof. Byrne : It is like cracking eggs; it is trying to get the answer for the effort involved. The reports that I have had, and the discussions that I have had with people in the UK, are that the UK has done a very interesting exercise looking at case studies, and it has been a very useful exercise. It is useful in one particular sense, and that is because it has heightened universities' need to articulate the benefits of research. The downside of the exercise was the time involved in compiling those case studies. I think HEFCE in the UK did a very good job in establishing a methodology of assessment of case studies. I would have a high degree of confidence in their ability to pick up a case study, evaluate it and say, 'Yes, this is a good example of the impact of research.' The downside is whether it has been cost-effective, whether it has told you anything really significant that you cannot get from other parts of the exercise.

The HEFCE exercise in the UK is a very different exercise from the ERA exercise. It is my view that the HEFCE exercise is an exercise about the allocation of government resource, and indeed 20 or 25 per cent of the allocation in the HEFCE exercise is going to be predicated on the case study methodology. I think the English exercise has shown us that you can develop a methodology of analysis of case studies that you might be able to use for the allocation of resource, but I think the big question in the UK is still whether it is worth the extra effort of doing that. The big return, in my view, of the exercise in the UK was, as I articulated a few moments ago, is the sensitisation of the sector and articulating the benefits of research. This was a step change in the UK. As we pointed out a moment ago, we have had the ATN Group of Eight exercise around case studies. The gain in the UK was, as I say, the sensitisation of the community into telling the stories about why research is important. We have already done that to some degree in our exercise. Were we to mimic the UK exercise to run a case study methodology, it would be my view that the value add of that exercise would not be as great as in the UK because we are already halfway there. If the cost effectiveness of the exercise in the UK is under question, that says that in Australia it would be likely to be even less cost-effective.

Senator KIM CARR: There is an article by Professor Peter Gray in the latest issue of Australian Science. He talks about the knowledge translation metrics project. He is chairing the steering committee. Is the ARC involved in that?

Prof. Byrne : This is the one referred to, that has some sponsorship from the department. It involves representatives from ourselves, NHMRC, the industry and science department, and it is run by ATSE, who have a very strong participation in that exercise.

Senator KIM CARR: What is the status of the project? I understand the report has been delivered?

Prof. Byrne : I believe the report is due to the department in a month or so.

Mr Griew : I will have to confirm that later.

Senator KIM CARR: I might have been misinformed, but the report—

Prof. Byrne : The report has not been delivered.

Senator KIM CARR: The article that I have quoted says that the report from the project has been delivered to the education department.

Prof. Byrne : That is not true.

Mr Griew : That is not true.

Senator KIM CARR: You think that is just wrong?

Prof. Byrne : That is not true; that is wrong. I am on the steering group.

Senator KIM CARR: If I could go back to the issue of measuring impact—it has always been a fraught matter, and industry engagement has also been contentious. In terms of that matter, where do you think we are going now?

Prof. Byrne : It will be interesting to see whether this exercise that you describe, which is coordinated by ATSE, is actually going to be useful. The parameters are really about trying to see if there is enough information in the system that you can use in a sensible way as an indicator of impact of research without going through other sorts of exercises. It is distinct from what ERA tries to do, and, as you know because you were there at the very beginning, the ERA exercise is about evaluating research quality. It is not about evaluating the effectiveness of the translation or impact of that research. No-one, in my view, around the world—and this includes HEFCE in the UK—has cracked that nut of solving how to measure research impact in a simple way that is not caught up in the various contributing sources to the research impact, and is not caught up in the long timescales that get associated with truly measuring the impact of basic research, such as happens in our universities.

Senator KIM CARR: It appears that the debate really has not moved very far.

Prof. Byrne : I do not think that is quite true either. What we do not have is another exercise that is measuring the impact of research, but nobody in the world has that.

Senator KIM CARR: No-one knows how to do it, but is there any question about compromising ERA in this process?

Prof. Byrne : No, I do not think so. One has to be careful to understand what ERA is doing. ERA is a measure of research quality, and I think it is very valuable for the nation to run an exercise like ERA that is keeping the focus of universities on research quality. If you look for one indicator about how to make our universities great, it is a focus on research quality, so I think that is a very valuable thing. But it is also very useful to make sure that there are other supporters and other indicators available to universities to help them and assist them in also having a focus on how their research may be important to the country as a whole and, particularly, to give them incentives to collaborate with industry. If you can look for some other indicators that are not overly burdensome on a sector that can actually get a good handle on that, that is a very valuable thing to do.

Senator KIM CARR: Is it your expectation that we will see new metrics implemented any time soon?

Prof. Byrne : I would have to go into opinion on that one. We could. We might.

Senator KIM CARR: I do not ask for opinions. You know that.

Prof. Byrne : I know you do not. We might.

Senator KIM CARR: But the expectations are different.

Prof. Byrne : We might see it, and that could be a very a valuable—

Senator KIM CARR: Over what time period would your expectation be that we might see it?

Prof. Byrne : If you are serious about it, first of all, you have to do what this exercise run at the moment by ATSE is doing and look at the available indicators and do an assessment about whether they are really practicable. You then have to trial it in some way; you really have to run a test on something to see if it works. That says that it is probably a year away from implementation. Then there is the big question—always a question with these exercises—what do you use it for? In the UK, the answer to that is actually very clear because the UK research assessment exercise is not about the assessment of research. It is about the apportionment of the block amount resource in the UK and it is about ranking universities for the purposes of that allocation.

We do not use our evaluation exercise, our ERA exercise, here for that, yet it has, I think, usefully changed behaviours in universities in a very positive way. But there are arguments around that that I have some sympathy with: that it provides universities with the only game in town. I think it is also important for universities to focus on attributes other than research quality. If you want a single indicator, it is probably the best, but universities do need to interact strongly with industry for our country to do better, and finding instruments to that, I think, is quite important.

You asked me if I think there is going to be an indicator soon. There could well be an indicator in a year, but you have to be careful. You have to think through it in a very careful way. That was one of the very good things about ERA; it did manage the process well. When people first heard of ERA, the university system was very wary about the process.

Senator KIM CARR: No, that is unfair. Some sections were—

Prof. Byrne : Some sections were. It is very interesting to reflect on ERA as we are running it out now, because we are in the implementation phase of the next ERA.

Senator KIM CARR: But there are constant efforts to get in underneath it.

Prof. Byrne : There is that; I accept that. But universities are much more accepting of the process and understanding of the process, and it has gone a lot more smoothly this time than it has in the past. That is a very good, positive thing. You have to do the same work if you want to find an indicator around the impact of research. As I said, it has variables—like the multiple contributions to the success of something—and the long timescales associated with mapping basic research to a tangible outcome at the end. They make that process quite—measuring academic quality is a cinch compared to that, actually. And that is hard.

ACTING CHAIR ( Senator Ruston ): Thank you very much, Professor Byrne and Dr Dan.