Minister Julie Bishop responds to Gillies' letter
The Hon Julie Bishop MP
Minister for Education, Science and Training
25 July 2006
Dear Professor GilliesKnowledge transfer
Thank you for your letter of 21 June 2006 concerning knowledge transfer. I am pleased that the Council for Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences (CHASS) has responded to my invitation, following my address at the Knowledge Transfer and Engagement Forum, to put forward views to help me develop a case for futher investment in knowledge transfer.
I believe that the humanities, arts and social sciences have a great deal to contribute to Australia's social, human, environmental and economic goals, and I acknowledge the hard work and commitment that humanities, arts and social science researchers and scholars bring to their engagement with the wider Australian Community. As you know, I am keen to encourage diversity in Australia's higher education and research system, and I see knowledge transfer - especially through the humanities, arts and social science sector - as a powerful driver of diversity.
I agree that quality research can have many worthwhile outcomes, not all of which are readily measurable in direct economic terms. As I stressed in my address to the Knowledge Transfer and Engagement Forum, however, the economic benefits of effective knowledge transfer can also be achieved through indirect means. Indeed, I believe that public sector research and scholarship make their most important ongoing contributions via the broad underpinnings of innovation and creativity that are so crucial to Australia enjoying sustained economic success. In particular, human capital is crucial to strengthening and building innovative capacity, and the development of human capital in the broadest sense is squarely within the realm of humanities, arts and social sciences. In short, I believe that the CHASS perspective is broadly in accord with what the Australian Government would like to see in the way that academic work benefits the nation.
I note that you refer to the United Kingdom's (UK) 'third stream funding' approach, especially in terms of knowledge transfer relating to both research and educational (i.e. teaching and learning) engagement. While I accept that there is an argument to be put that knowledge transfer could be developed in tandem with both the research and teaching missions of Australian universities, as I indicated in my speech to the Knowledge Transfer and Engagement Forum, I believe that - at least initially - the focus of any new, specific spending on knowledge transfer should be on research and its application. This is not to suggest that knowledge transfer is unimportant to teaching and learning, but it is my view that, for the time being, there are greater opportunities for reform and impact through concentrating attention on knowledge transfer on the research side of our universities' mission.
I should make a further point about the UK approach. As you know, the UK 'third stream funding' is manifest mainly in the higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF). It is my view that the UK model, while informative, needs to be seen in the light of the Australian research and higher education policy and funding environment. For example, the Australian Government funds innovative programmes that have knowledge transfer in one form or another as a core objective, including Cooperative Research Centres and the rural Research and Development Corporations. These by and large, do not have direct analogues in the UK system.
At this point in the debate, therefore, it is my view that any additional funding for knowledge transfer should be focussed on universities engaging with business, government or the community to generate, acquire, apply and make accessible knowledge. Such activity should result in economic benefit for the community and the nation. It is also my view that in the current environment any consideration of knowledge transfer should focus on the application and impact of research rather than on the teaching role of universities. While the focus is on activities that deliver economic benefits for all Australians, these benefits can be achieved by indirect means as well as by more direct commercialisation routes. In this context, effective but broad-based performance indicators need to be considered for any putative knowledge transfer funding in Australia. This would be especially important in ensuring that the substantial contributions to be garnered from the humanities, arts and social sciences are fully valued and recognised.
Finally. I have asked my Department to take up your offer to meet and discuss this issue in more detail. You will be contacted shortly to arrange a time for the meeting.
I look forward to the continuation of the debate on knowledge transfer; it is a critical part of the process in considering possible policy change in this area.
25 July 2006
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- For more information, please contact:
- Toss Gascoigne
- Executive Director
- Council of the Humanties, Arts and Social Sciences
- Phone: +61 2 6249 1995