Please refer to the University’s glossary of terms for policies and procedures.
Research centre is an established and focused cohort of researchers recognised as having a significant national impact and international relevance. Research centres have a prime focus to conduct research of strategic importance to the university in terms of national/international standing and peer esteem, commercial research and research training, as well as engage in consulting and extension activities.
Research institute is a large research concentration of excellence established through formal agreement(s) with other external organisations or entities, and may have additional governance requirements and operational characteristics associated with the external partners. This large body of researchers is funded predominantly by significant external funding.
1. Purpose of procedures
These procedures provide guidance to staff on the establishment, operation and disestablishment of university research centres and research institutes. More detailed guidance may be provided by the Office of Research via guidelines, forms and templates, which are available on MyUSC.
These procedures do not apply to faculty research units or groups that may be established to foster emerging research strengths and to meet strategic goals of a faculty. Such units or groups must be approved by the relevant Executive Dean and are subject to any conditions imposed by the Executive Dean. A faculty research unit or group is part of the faculty, and the Executive Dean is responsible for its establishment, disestablishment, funding, management, reporting and review. These groupings must not use the terms ‘centre’ or ‘institute’ in their name and are not covered by the Research Centres and Research Institutes – Academic Policy or Research Centres and Research Institutes – Procedures.
2. Baseline research performance criteria
2.1 USC expects research centres and research institutes to demonstrate an ability to meet the baseline research performance criteria (in both size and research capacity) together with an ability to develop a comprehensive, cogent and demonstrably achievable long-term research plan as set out in the related guidelines.
2.2 The criteria are subject to change at the discretion of the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation) in response to changes in the strategic direction of the institution and available funding, and may involve renegotiation of forward plans for existing centres and institutes, as per the usual review cycle and operational planning.
2.3 Demonstrated ability to meet the baseline criteria is a necessary, but not sufficient condition for designation as a research centre or research institute. Alignment with USC’s research priorities and/or strengths must also be demonstrated in one or more of the following ways:
- The majority of the group’s publications need to be of high quality as indicated in the guidelines.
- The group’s research focus is aligned with an FoR in which the university achieved a rating of 3 in the most recent ERA evaluation, but significant improvements in performance (especially in relation to publication numbers and citation counts) can be demonstrated since that ERA census period.
- The group’s research focus is aligned to a research priority in the university’s strategic plan, academic plan or any other equivalent university-level strategic document.
- The group’s research can make a demonstrable and significant contribution to the university’s aspirations in relation to international rankings.
- The Vice-Chancellor and President or Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation) has identified the discipline as a current priority for further development.
2.4 The Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation) may exempt an existing or potential centre or institute from the need to meet any of these baseline performance criteria in exceptional circumstances (for example, where disciplinary norms differ from the approach or values listed).
2.5 Collective performance for ongoing assessment of established centres and institutes will be measured against key performance indicators approved, as well as satisfactory progression against the approved plan, for each centre or institute.
2.6 Directors of existing centres and institutes may negotiate with the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation) a transition period for any change in status.
2.7 In all cases the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation) can use discretion regarding the performance eligibility of a centre or institute where this provides strategic benefits for the university.
3. Application for designation as a research centre or research institute
3.1 Expressions of interest should be submitted to the Office of the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation) using the relevant form.
3.2 Expressions of interest must be endorsed by the relevant Executive Dean prior to submission to the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation).
3.3 Groups applying for designation and funding are expected to submit a comprehensive research plan for the first five-year life cycle of the centre or institute, as well as a detailed operational plan for the first year of operation, giving greater detail on activities and expected budget allocations.
3.4 Research groups are encouraged to discuss their proposals with the relevant Head of School, Associate Dean (Research), Executive Dean and the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation) before lodgement of a formal application. Groups may also seek advice from external experts where this will enhance the robustness of an application.
4. Assessment of designation as a research centre or research institute
4.1 Expressions of interest will be assessed by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation) in consultation with the Executive Deans, Director, Office of Research and other relevant staff within the Office of Research.
4.2 Successful expressions of interest will be invited by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation) to negotiate and subsequently submit a full application comprising a five-year plan that will form the basis of an agreement. This plan will include the key performance indicators and performance targets that will inform subsequent reporting and reviews.
4.3 Full applications will be assessed by two international leaders in the cognate discipline of the centre/institute, in conjunction with a panel chaired by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation); the panel will include Executive Deans or delegates, Director, Office of Research along with co-opted members where it is felt that additional expertise is required.
5.1 Research centres and research institutes will operate within faculties under the authority of the Executive Deans.
5.2 For employment and other routine administrative purposes, standard line management structures will be adhered to.
5.3 Research leadership team
5.3.1 Research centre and research institute directors will be supported by a leadership team identified as part of the application process. The role of the research leadership team is to assist the director in:
- managing the centre or institute’s day-to-day functioning and administration
- facilitating coordination between areas involved in the centre or institute’s activities
- administering available funds
- preparing the annual report and documents required for reviews.
5.4 Advisory board
5.4.1 Research institutes and centres must establish an advisory board with external representation and an independent chairperson to support the research leadership team.
5.5 Budgets and operational planning
5.5.1 As part of the annual operational planning process, an approved centre or institute will receive its first year’s funding in advance from the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation).
5.5.2 Ongoing payments are made upon submission of satisfactory annual reports, providing baseline eligibility criteria continue to be met.
5.5.3 The quantum of funding received in each year may vary depending on relative research performance and overall available budget, but directors will be advised in a timely manner to allow for planning for the year ahead.
6. Reviews and reporting
6.1 Formalised review cycles for centres and institutes provide the opportunity to consider the return on the university’s investment, which is broader than just financial considerations and may consider publications, reputation and relationship building, contributions to international rankings aspirations, and any other relevant factors.
6.2 The fourth yearly review will determine if the centre or institute should be funded for a further five-year cycle.
6.3 The Office of Research provides timelines for the annual review cycle and templates for reporting requirements. Failure to adequately address review and reporting requirements may result in an unsatisfactory review finding.
7. Third and final year reviews
7.1 In the latter half of the third year of funding, after the resignation of a Director, or at the discretion of the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation), each centre and institute will be reviewed to determine if they will receive further support.
7.2 A final review will be conducted in the latter half of the final year of the centre or institute base funding agreement.
7.3 The fourth yearly report should be accompanied by a new research plan setting out the goals, performance targets, activities and broad budgetary needs for the next five-year cycle.
7.4 The purpose of these reviews is to determine whether each centre or institute:
- is effectively and efficiently pursuing the original functions and targets, and that those functions and targets continue to be relevant
- has demonstrated a case for its continuation
- has achieved the planned targets for the period of review
- has strategic and operational planning in place for the ensuing period, including succession planning
- continues to have strategic relevance
- has academic and financial support that remains sufficiently strong to justify its continuation
- has a case for a change in status, including strategies for achieving financial independence and any revised performance indicators and performance targets (progression is not mandatory).
7.5 Research centres and research institutes must use the relevant templates to document evidence to cover these points. Documentation must be provided to the Office of Research by 30 June in the review year.
7.6 Preparation of the review documentation is the responsibility of the director and research leadership team in consultation with members.
8.1 Voluntary disestablishment may occur at any time. The centre or institute director should discuss the reasons for disestablishment with the relevant Executive Dean and the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation), including any potential alternatives.
8.2 The Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation) in consultation with the Executive Deans may disestablish a centre or institute following a review.
8.3 A review panel may recommend the disestablishment of a centre or institute for reasons such as:
- its strategic purpose has been fulfilled, or it no longer aligns to the strategic goals of the university
- it has experienced a significant change in direction
- it has failed to achieve a significant proportion of its key performance indicators and targets, and insufficient evidence of strategies to lift the performance to a satisfactory level has been provided
- there is a lack of an agreement between the host faculty and the centre or institute regarding staffing, financial and/or resource arrangements for the ensuing five years, or
- it has failed to meet any requirements under the terms of this policy and procedures as requested by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation) or Research Committee.
8.4 Disestablishment may occur following either two successive unsatisfactory annual reviews, or an unsatisfactory fourth-year review, where the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation) has determined that there is little likelihood of resolution of the identified problems.
8.5 All centres and institutes are required to articulate arrangements for disestablishment in their initial business plans. These arrangements must address governance, management, research project completion, student completion, financial management and budget provisions.
8.6 After a formal decision to disestablish, the relevant Executive Dean/s (or delegate) will work with the centre or institute director to manage residual staff, assets or commitments within the faculty or faculties. A similar approach may be employed to manage an amalgamation of two centres or institutes.