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On target with quality research that makes a difference

by Michèle Nardelli

Research being conducted at Ian Wark.With the 2012 Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) report handed down in the first week of December and the trial Excellence in Innovation for Australia (EIA) report released a week before, Australia has probably never had a more comprehensive assessment of its university research.

Combined, the reports give a picture not only of what Australian researchers are contributing to the wealth and quality of knowledge globally, but also how that research is making a difference to our health and well-being, the economy and our environment.

The University of South Australia delivered a significant improvement in its ERA result moving from a position where 70 per cent of its research was assessed as world class or better in 2010 to a 2012 report that shows 86 per cent of assessed research is now world class.

University of South Australia Acting Vice Chancellor Professor Joanne Wright says the results show that the University’s plans to develop a wide portfolio of world class research are on target.

Based on data collected from 2005 to 2010, UniSA was assessed as world standard or above in fields such as resources engineering and extractive metallurgy, mechanical engineering, information and computer sciences, psychology, human movement and sports science, cultural studies and economics.

Prof Wright says the improved results are a coming-of-age for UniSA as it celebrates its 21st birthday.

“We’ve dramatically improved our research performance in the two years since the first ERA assessment and our plans are to continue to target world class quality in all of our research,” she says.

At the same time the trial project to assess the impact of research at 11 Australian universities also proved successful for the University.

A model to assess the benefits and impacts of 162 research case studies across Australia showed that 87 per cent of the research assessed was having a considerable to outstanding impact in the wider world.

University of South Australia Deputy Vice Chancellor: Research, Professor Sakkie Pretorius says the EIA trial has been an invaluable foray into finding a way to measure research that is meaningful in the community.

“It shows people in real life terms, the value of the substantial tax dollars invested in funding research across the nation,” he says.

“It is also significant in the research world because it reveals quite clearly what excellent and powerful research looks like.”

Prof Pretorius said it was too easy for the notion of research to take on a closed, “locked away in laboratories” status, so that people lost connection with its value and purpose.

“The EIA trial has been thoroughly worthwhile and will help to shape the future of how we measure our research success nationally and globally,” he says.

UniSA’s Ian Wark Research Institute featured as an outstanding example of research that is making a difference in the world and specifically to the mining industry through its work in developing mineral flotation science.

“The Wark’s strong partnership with the mining sector delivered more than $318 million to the industry between 1988 and 2006 through successful technology transfer and by the end of this year that figure is set to rise to $1 billion,” Prof Pretorius said.

“It is just one example of how research delivers tangible economic outcomes for the nation. And across the full range of research assessed a picture emerges that translates to research that saves lives, provides employment, and protects the environment – all central to building a better world.”

The University’s 12 projects assessed for the trial, ranging from the industry-partnered development of the world’s first fully plastic automotive mirror, right through to research into improving the use of medicines for better health and economic outcomes, all rated as having considerable to outstanding impact.

Professor Pretorius says coupled with the strong improvement in the Excellence in Research for Australia results announced this month, it is clear that UniSA is building a strong base for quality research that makes a difference.