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University Research Commercialisation Scheme

CHASS Board  | Published on 4/12/2021
8 April 2021
RE: University Research Commercialisation Scheme

As President of the Council for the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences (CHASS) in
Australia, I write on behalf of the CHASS Board to give our perspectives on the
University Research Commercialisation Scheme. CHASS is a peak body with a
membership of over 40 HASS organizations, including academic discipline associations,
universities and members from HASS associated industries.

In this submission I make two overarching statements before addressing questions raised
in the Consultation Paper released by the Department of Education, Skills and
Employment. I conclude by noting areas in which commercialisation in the Humanities
Arts and Social Sciences (HASS) sector can be supported.

Principles
1. The Council is supportive of new avenues to enhance research commercialisation
as long as it is in addition to and not at the expense of supporting the broader
educational, basic research and engagement missions of Australian universities. As
recognised in the Consultation Paper, impact is a much larger concept than
commercialisation and resourcing and support for commercialisation should not
diminish other research outcomes for the Australian community.

2. Avenues for supporting the commercialisation of knowledge and insights drawn
from HASS research are essential to supporting the broader publics our
universities serve. This is true for all of our universities but particularly those with
a strong place-based mission, for example in regional areas or in the growing outer
suburbs of our major cities.

Appropriate mechanisms for supporting commercialisation
The publics that our universities serve face challenges and opportunities involving
significant technological, environmental, economic, demographic and cultural change.

The Consultation Paper asks whether ‘missions’ are an appropriate mechanism to drive
investment in the commercialisation of research. The mission approach sets as a goal the
solution of a complex challenge (like those mentioned above) and researchers in the
public and private sectors strive to achieve it. A focus on complex challenges that
facilitates research engagement across the breadth of the Academy is an appropriate way
to channel activity and provide broad support for the commercialization of research. It
recognizes the interdisciplinary nature of the solutions required by industry partners and
the community today.

The Consultation Paper asks about best approaches to selecting missions, and whether a
stage-gated model is suited for the purpose of the Scheme. Recognising levels of risk at
different stages and different types of industry-academic collaboration is important, but
the model presented (p. 8) is more appropriate to a narrow concept of technological
innovation than a broader understanding of commercialisable research.

Australia’s cities are regularly ranked as among the most livable in the world, appearing
on lists of the top global cities for international students, and for culture and literature.
Our global position as an English speaking, cosmopolitan society in the Asia Pacific
region, with a world-class higher education sector and vibrant cities and regions, means
that our greatest competitive advantage lies in areas closely aligned to our galleries,
libraries, archives, and museums (GLAM) sector, the culture industries and tourism and
in the flourishing of sustainable communities that enhance human potential. This is
particularly relevant to the question of how to select projects for commercialisation. If the
models and criteria for supporting commercialisable research focus on areas that
overlook this competitive advantage, significant opportunities will be lost.

Barriers

Making use of this advantage will require investment and upskilling in the HASS sector.
The Consultation Paper asks how commercialisation can be incentivised and academics
given the right skills to pursue commercial opportunities.

In 2005 CHASS released a publication outlining six interconnected challenges facing the
commercialisation of research in the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciencesi
.

1. Industry lacks understanding of the value of HASS research
2. There are no standard practices for industry engagement in HASS
3. The HASS research sector needs to improve commercialisation skills
4. Our universities are better equipped to support STEM than HASS research
commercialisation
5. Commercial work is not well incentivised for HASS researchers in our universities
6. R&D spending on HASS is very limited relative to STEM (related to lack of
understanding of possibilities of HASS).

While some progress has been made since, the issues we identified in 2005 are still
current and were recently used to frame the Aspect Initiativeii in the UK, which has the
specific aim of developing avenues to support commercialisation in the Social Sciences.
It was launched in 2018 with 5 million pounds funding from Research England. Aspect
adds two new items to this listiii, which also characterise the Australian situation.

7. Much of the value of HASS research to industry is in the direct expertise of
researchers, much more than in product development. This may not be as well
captured in commercialisation supports, schemes and legal frameworks (for
example, patents are less appropriate, copyright laws have limitations).

8. Definitions and operationalisations of Research and Development are often too
narrow to capture substantial areas of HASS expertise, such as data collection and
analysis and curation.

Next steps
The Consultation Paper asks how better industry-university collaboration incentives can
be developed. To do this requires a multi-pronged approach. The HASS disciplines are
diverse and offer diverse opportunities for commercialisation and have different
challenges to face. For example, smaller grants and tenders are available in the GLAM
sector than in education, business, law and sociology. The same blanket criteria for
accessing commercialisation support should not be applied across all areas of research.

The Consultation Paper asks which stakeholders should be involved in the governance
arrangements. For many in the HASS disciplines, as in other research sectors, there is a
deeply held belief in the broader value of the research they do outside of direct
commercial applicability. However, a broader commitment to engaging with the
community to improve understanding of what makes us human and to improve the
quality of our lives does point many HASS researchers in the direction of
commercialisation.

For many in HASS, expert consulting work will be a more common pathway to
commercialisation than product development, leading to future opportunities for working
with industry while bringing additional benefits to universities teaching in HASS, such as
improving the delivery of work integrated learning. A broad and flexible understanding
of commercialisation needs to be adopted in any new scheme, for example giving due
recognition to the commercial value of expertise. To ensure this, HASS sector
involvement is critical. The people and place-focused skills that HASS researchers
provide the community are central to Australia’s competitive advantage and to building
the successful Australian society of the future. On behalf of CHASS, I am happy to offer
access to its extensive network of HASS expertise to assist further as the consultation
process continues.

Sincerely

Dan Woodman
TR Ashworth Professor of Sociology
University of Melbourne
President, Council for the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences.

i Gascoigne T & Metcalf J (2005) Commercialisation of research activities in the humanities, arts and social sciences in Australia, CHASS Occasional paper. https://www.chass.org.au/wpcontent/uploads/2015/02/PAP20050501TG.pdf
ii https://aspect.ac.uk/
iii https://aspect.ac.uk/resources/now-is-the-time-to-transform-how-we-think-about-social-sciencecommerc