Research Concentrations - Academic Policy

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Research Concentrations - Academic Policy


Approval authority
Academic Board
Responsible officer
Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation)
Designated officer
Director, Office of Research
First approved
1 April 2014
Last amended
5 January 2016
Effective start date
15 April 2014
Review date
7 February 2017
Related documents
Compliance Management Framework - Governing Policy
Research Concentrations - Procedures
Research Misconduct - Governing Policy
University Consultancy Work - Managerial Policy

1. Purpose of policy

This policy is intended to provide the framework for the establishment, operation, reporting, review, and disestablishment of Research Concentrations. Research Concentrations enable the University to

  • foster research strengths
  • facilitate the strategic utilisation of infrastructure and resources
  • build research capacity
  • attract private and public sector funding
  • market research capabilities through cohesive formally recognised branding
  • enrich Higher Degree Research (HDR) training
  • strengthen the research / teaching nexus
  • provide a stimulating and supportive research environment for Early Career Researchers.

2. Policy scope and application

This policy applies to all staff, HDR students and members of university decision-making or advisory bodies.

3. Definitions

Please refer to the University’s Glossary of Terms for policies and procedures. Terms and definitions identified below are specific to these procedures and are critical to its effectiveness:

Eligible Staff Member means a staff member who is able to demonstrate a sustained engagement with research over the past three years using a portfolio of evidence. This portfolio of evidence may include sector recognised research outputs, competitive grant income, research impact (determined by citation analysis), HDR supervision and sector recognised esteem and applied measures. A researcher’s track record is primarily assessed against the eligible research output and research income patterns of their discipline area. National averages determined by established sector metrics for discipline specific eligible research outputs and research income are used in conjunction with other elements of the portfolio to assess engagement. Allowance is made for the length of time an early career researcher may have had in a research environment.

Early Career Researcher (ECR) means a researcher who is within five years of the start of their research careers. This normally applies to a person who was awarded a PhD or equivalent research doctorate within the previous five year period. A staff member, who was awarded a PhD more than five years ago, may be considered as an ECR if their research career has been interrupted. This is consistent with the definition used by the Australian Research Council.

Eligible Research Outputs means that a research output must meet the definition of research and conform to one of the following types:

  • traditional research outputs which include Books - Authored Research; Book - Chapters in Research Book; Journal Articles - Refereed, Scholarly Journal; and Conference Publications-Full Paper Refereed
  • non-traditional types of research include Original Creative Works; Live Performance of Creative Works; Recorded/Rendered Creative Works; and Curated or Produced Substantial Public Exhibitions and Events.

The University uses the Excellence in Research for Australia definition of Eligible Research Outputs.

Research means the creation of new knowledge and/or the use of existing knowledge in a new and creative way so as to generate new concepts, methodologies and understandings. This could include synthesis and analysis of previous research to the extent that it leads to new and creative outcomes.

This definition of research is consistent with a broad notion of research and experimental development (R&D) as comprising of creative work undertaken on a systematic basis in order to increase the stock of knowledge, including knowledge of humanity, culture and society, and the use of this stock of knowledge to devise new applications.

This definition of research encompasses pure and strategic basic research, applied research and experimental development. Applied research is original investigation undertaken to acquire new knowledge but directed towards a specific, practical aim or objective (including a client-driven purpose). The University uses the Higher Education Data Collection (HERDC) definition for research.

Researcher means any USC staff, students, adjuncts, conjoint appointments or visiting appointments undertaking research at USC including staff classified as academic, professional and technical, and casual staff undertaking research.

4. Policy Statement

4.1 Principles

4.1.1 The policy recognises four categories of Research Concentration:

(a) Research Cluster: An entry level for an emerging strength within the University

(b) Tier 2: A Centre with growing national relevance and profile

(c) Tier 1: A Centre with a significant national impact and growing international profile

(d) Research Institute: A predominantly self-sufficient, externally linked Institute of research excellence.

4.1.2 Clusters, Centres and Institutes earn and maintain through excellent research performance the right to use a title specified under this Research Concentration Policy.

4.1.3 Researchers have a logical fit with Concentration research program.

4.1.4 Selection and accountability processes are open and objective.

4.1.5 Clusters, Centres and Institutes deliver growth against agreed research Key Performance Indicators.

4.1.6 Base level funding, linked to Concentration category, is made available subject to available resources.

4.1.7 Clusters, Centres and Institutes are committed to the promotion and mentoring of Early Career Researchers.

4.1.8 Research training for Honours and HDR will be a key function for Clusters, Centres and Institutes.

4.2 Attributes of Research Clusters, Centres and Institutes categories

4.2.1 Research Cluster

A Research Cluster is an entry level Research Concentration with a University recognised cluster or niche of focused research activity in an emerging area of research strength. The Research Cluster may have facilities (laboratory, assigned offices or functions) and may also provide contract commercial services as well as research capability. A Research Cluster may involve a relatively small number of researchers, but would be engaged in valued and University aligned research and research training activity.

4.2.2 Research Centre Tier 2

A Research Centre Tier 2 is an established and focused cohort of researchers recognised as having a growing national relevance and profile. This category of Concentration is designed to enable researchers to maximise national potential through the strategic use of facilities and resources; to be actively generating eligible research outputs; and to actively build research capacity through attracting significant external funding, engaging research fellows and a commitment to research training activity.

4.2.3 Research Centre Tier 1

A Research Centre Tier 1 is an established and focused cohort of researchers recognised as having a significant national impact and growing international relevance. This category of Concentration will attract significant national and international collaboration and be consistently generating eligible research outputs. The Research Centre Tier 1 will be in receipt of multiple and regular Australian Competitive Grant and industry funded research programs and would 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.

4.2.4 Research Institute

A 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 category is predominantly self-sufficient, with extensive external funding.

The name chosen by each Research Cluster, Centres and Institutes will be approved by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation). Use of the term Institute will be restricted.

4.3. Performance criteria

A Research Concentration shall be based on the coordinated and cooperative efforts of multiple researchers working in an allied field of investigation. Research Concentrations will be underpinned by individual and collective performance excellence sustained at a national and international level. Consideration will be given to discipline specific measures of research excellence in addition to prevailing sector measures of research quality such as research impact, research income, publications and HDR completions.

Collective performance criteria will be used to inform the assessment of applications to establish Research Concentrations, as well for the review of Concentrations. These criteria are set out in the Research Concentrations - Procedures.

The key criteria used for the assessment and qualification of individual members of Research Concentrations are the units of research activity contained in the definition of Eligible Staff Member. The balance of these activities may vary, such that the research outputs are consistent with the discipline specific criteria used in the prevailing sectoral assessments of research quality.

Each Research Concentrations will develop a research program which includes Key Performance Indicators that incorporate a growth profile and annual performance targets.

With regard to specific discipline benchmarks and with the guidance of external expert assessment, the criteria and performance indicators may be applied flexibly by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation) to facilitate strategic research performance outcomes.

4.4. Application for Research Concentration recognition and benefits

The overall number and faculty affiliation of Concentration categories is based on the strategic needs of the University, funding available and quality of proposals submitted to any call for Expressions of Interest. Expressions of Interest may be taken as a result of a competitive call for proposals at least once every three years or by invitation of the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation) to take strategic advantage of an external initiative.

The Expression of Interest is designed to permit an evaluation of the proposed Research Concentrations Research Plan, alignment with the University’s research strategy, coherence of the research interests of the membership and the significance and expected impact of the research effort. The Expression of Interest is made using an approved Form.

Quantitative data covering reportable research outputs as well as internal and external grants or funding contracts secured by proposed members of the Research Concentrations is provided by the Office of Research to determine the eligibility status of members to support the Expression of Interest.

Research Concentrations may involve a range of contributors in addition to Eligible Staff Members such as Early Career Researchers, other researchers, Postdoctoral Fellows, and Higher Degree Research candidates. The proportion of Eligible Staff Members is expected to remain at or above a specified level of overall membership.

4.5. Approval of the establishment of a Research Concentration

Expressions of Interest are assessed by a panel chaired by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation). The panel includes the Executive Deans or delegate, a member of the Research Management Committee, a member of Research Degrees Committee and up to three external specialists may be nominated by the applicants to provide expert guidance to the panel.

Successful Expressions of Interest are invited by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation) to negotiate and formally submit a five year plan which forms the basis of a Research Concentration agreement. This plan must include the Key Performance Indicators and performance targets which will inform subsequent reporting and reviews. Entry level Research Clusters may submit a three year plan.

4.6. Research Concentration Membership

Full Members

Full members of Research Concentrations will normally:

  • be full-time or fractional academic staff Level A and above, holding continuing or fixed term appointments, who are able to commit all of their research time to one or more Concentrations
  • meet the University’s minimum Individual Membership Requirements as outlined in the Procedures (individual Centre Directors may elect to set higher standards for minimum research performance).

Paid Members

Paid members of Research Concentrations are academic staff at Level B and above, who are in receipt of a salary paid by the Research Concentration and who do not hold any other category of membership.

Associate Members

Associate members of Research Concentrations will include full-time or fractional academic staff Level A and above holding continuing or fixed term appointments or fractional appointments, who do not meet the University’s minimum Individual Membership Requirements.

Adjunct Members

Adjunct members are staff who have been appointed according to the University’s procedures for adjunct and honorary appointments, and will be appointed at the Concentrations Directors/Leaders discretion.

Student Members

A student member must be enrolled in an Honours, Masters by Research or Higher Degree by Research program at the University of the Sunshine Coast. Student members must:

  • be undertaking a research project which is aligned with the research programs of the Research Concentration, and/or
  • have a member of the Concentration as their principal or associate supervisor.

4.7 Membership of more than one Research Concentration

For reporting purposes, only full members may hold joint membership of more than one Concentration, and joint membership may not extend beyond two Concentrations. It is important that the staff member concerned is able to make a genuine contribution to each Concentration.

For reporting purposes, research outputs will be allocated to both Concentrations.

Requests for joint membership should be made in writing to the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation). The PVC(R) will ensure that joint membership is in the best interests of the staff member and the University. Applications need to be endorsed by the relevant Associate Dean/s (Research) and the Directors/Leaders of both Research Concentrations, with a copy forwarded to the Office for Research.

4.8 Leadership

Each Institute and Centre has a Director, and each Cluster has a Leader, endorsed by the relevant Executive Dean and appointed by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation). The Director is accountable for the management of the Institute or Centre to the responsible Executive Dean. The Director is appointed for a period of five years, subject to evidence of satisfactory performance provided as part of the three year review.

The responsibilities of Directors include strategic research leadership, development, promotion, and support for collaboration, engagement and operational management. It is the responsibility of the Director to ensure the Institute or Centre builds capacity for and evidence of quality research.

Tier 1 and Tier 2 Centres and Institute Directors should have appointments with qualifications, leadership qualities and responsibilities similar to those expected from a Head of School.

The Director is supported by a research leadership team drawn from Institute or Centre members. This team meets at least twice a year.

The research leadership team of Tier 1 Research Centres and Institutes are supported by an Advisory Board with external representation. This Board meets at least twice a year.

4.9. Operation

Each of the Research Concentrations is administered from within a Faculty with the exception of a Research Institute which operates as an independent cost centre reporting through the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation).

Research Concentrations comply with planning requirements outlined in the Research Concentrations - Procedures.

Annual internal base funding is applied proportionally (as per the table below) using a unit value determined by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation) with consideration to the funding available.

  Research Cluster Research Centre Tier 2 Research Centre Tier 1 Research Institute
Units for Annual Internal Base Funding   1 Unit   2 Units   4 Units   Assumed to be self sufficient

The appointment of staff holding positions directly through these entities will normally not exceed the period to the next formal review.

4.10. Support

Each category of Research Concentrations is allocated a fixed base level of support for the first three years of operation subject to satisfactory annual progress reports. Base level support for years four and five is subject to a satisfactory annual performance review and a further review during year three. Funds may be supplemented by funding provided through other University schemes or initiatives. Any performance based funding available may vary from year to year as determined by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation) during the budget process.

4.11. Annual reporting

Research Institute and Centre Directors will provide the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation), relevant Executive Dean and the Research Management Committee with an annual report using the approved Annual Report Template.

4.12. Review

Research Concentrations are not permanently funded by the University and are subject to review. In the latter half of the third year of funding, or at any time at the discretion of the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation), each Research Concentration is reviewed to determine if they will receive a further two years of University support. A final review is conducted in the latter half of the final year of the funding agreement. A Review Committee is convened by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation) in accordance with the Quality and Standards Framework.

Each Concentration is reviewed to determine whether:

  • it is continuing to effectively and efficiently pursue its original functions and targets
  • these functions and targets continue to be relevant and that the Concentration has demonstrated a case for its continuation
  • the Concentration has achieved the planned targets for the period of review
  • strategic and operational planning is in place for the ensuing period, including succession planning
  • the strategic relevance of the Concentration activities
  • academic and financial support for the Concentration remains sufficiently strong to justify its continuation
  • there are appropriate mechanisms in place to ensure that any income arising from activities is expended appropriately
  • there is a case for a change in status, including strategies for achieving financial independence and any revised performance indicators and performance targets

Where it is deemed by a Review Committee that a Concentration is no longer functioning adequately, a recommendation for possible disestablishment may be made through the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation). The relevant Executive Dean and Director or Leader will be given the opportunity to comment on the Review Committees recommendation.

4.13. Disestablishment

All Concentrations are required to articulate arrangements for disestablishment in their initial business plans. This may include arrangements for the transfer of any residual staff, assets and/or commitments. After a formal decision to disestablish, the relevant Executive Dean (or nominee) will work with the Director or Leader to re-distribute staff and/or assets.

Research Concentrations, through their Directors/Leaders, may propose to the Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation) and the Research Committee that they be disestablished at any time.

The Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation) in consultation with the Research Management Committee may disestablish Research Concentrations as an outcome of a review.

A review panel may recommend the disestablishment of a Concentration for reasons such as:

  • its strategic purpose has been fulfilled
  • 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 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.


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