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Research or Consultancy Activity?
An overview of the broad differences between research and consultancy activity is provided below, and is designed as a basic guide only. Should you require further information, please contact one of the following areas:
Research involves a creative program of systematic investigation. All research involves potential innovation and risk. With research, it is not possible to predict whether a given objective can be achieved. An essential characteristic of research is that it leads to publicly verifiable outcomes that are open to peer appraisal. At a broad level, there are two categories of research activity – Sponsored Research and Contract Research which are elaborated below.
Department of Education and Training Definition of Research:
"Research is defined as 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 is leads to new and creative outcomes."
Sponsored research is frequently initiated by a research application. Funds are often provided on a highly competitive basis by government agencies such as the Australian Research Council (ARC) (opens in a new window) and the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) (opens in a new window)
Historically, such research activity has generally not been concerned with commercial outcomes but with the advance of knowledge. Increasingly, however, government agencies are keen to ensure the protection and development of Intellectual Property (IP) arising from such research – see the National Principles of Intellectual Property Management for Publicly Funded Research (opens in a new window) for further information.
The ARC Linkage Program is an example of sponsored, collaborative research funded by both the Commonwealth Government and industry partners. In this scheme, the Commonwealth seeks to ensure that IP arrangements between the industry partner/s and the University players are negotiated before commencement of the project. Sponsorship for such research does not normally cover total project costs – the University also contributes its own resources to support the research.
The Intellectual Property arising from the research is owned by the University which claims an unfettered right to publish the results of the research. The essential characteristic of such research activity is that it leads to publicly verifiable outcomes that are open to peer appraisal.
Sponsored research projects are administered by Research Services. Sponsored research funds can be reported to the Department of Education and Training (opens in a new window) as part of the annual research income return, which forms an essential component of the Higher Education Research Data Collection (HERDC). Such research activity returns funding to the University through the:
- Joint Research Engagement (JRE)
- Research Training Scheme (RTS)
- Research Infrastructure Block Grant (RIBG)
- Sustainable Research Excellence (SRE)
Such income feeds into the Research Investment Framework (RIF) that is used to the strategic advantage of the University. Much sponsored research is difficult to obtain and it is prestigious to do so; gaining an ARC grant is recognition of the esteem and significance of individual researchers and teams.
Research Services is actively engaged in assisting staff gain sponsored research funding. For more information, please contact the Grant Services team
Contract research may arise from a jointly initiated collaborative project between the University and an external agency (industry, government, semi-government body, commercial organisation etc.) or may follow on from a specific request from an external agency for a research project to be undertaken. Contract research has identified aims and objectives as well as project milestones, and often involves commercial outcomes. Like all research, it involves potential innovation and risk.
The contract may arise as a result of a competitive bid, or may follow on from extensive negotiations between the University and an external agency. With contract research, the intellectual property arising from the research is negotiated between the parties on a case by case basis and may depend on:
- The financial and intellectual contributions of the parties
- The existing intellectual property (background intellectual property) brought to the project by each partner.
The external partner will often seek to negotiate the right to commercially exploit the final intellectual property arising from the project in return for a royalty stream to be paid to the University. Most contract research conducted by the University operates through Research Services, although the Division of Finance and Resources (opens in a new window) also supports staff engaged in contract research. The University always seeks to ensure the right to publish, in peer review media, the research arising from such collaboration, mindful of any commercialisation or confidentiality constraints.
Contract research funds can be reported to Department of Education as part of the annual research income return, and thus would return Joint Research Engagement (JRE), Research Training Scheme (RTS) and sometimes Research Infrastructure Block Grant (RIBG) and Sustainable Research Excellence (SRE) funding to the University. Such income also feeds into the Research Investment Framework (RIF) that is used to the strategic advantage of the University.
Research Services is actively engaged in assisting staff gain contract research funding. For more information, please contact your Research Development Officer (RDO)
Consultancy involves the purchase by external agencies of (a) the skills and expertise of University staff and/or (b) access to University equipment or facilities to work on a specific project. Consultancy may cover such activities as expert opinion, analysis and testing services, product and process development and can be usefully defined as professional services based on existing knowledge. Consultancy is fully costed and priced and coordinated by the Business Services team
Consultancy funds cannot be reported to the Department of Education as part of the annual external research income return, and thus do not return any Joint Research Engagement (JRE) or Research Training Scheme (RTS) funding to the University. In financial management terms, consultancy income cannot operate through a research project account. Such income does, however, provide academic units with income for developmental purposes. Consultancies may also have a percentage of research involved and this can be identified by Business Services for inclusion in the external research income return.
The Business Services team deals with commercialisation matters that arise from all research conducted by University staff and students. They can guide researchers through the complex activity surrounding effective commercialisation, particularly in protecting any new Intellectual Property (IP) arising from research activity.
Intellectual Property management involves the identification, protection, and commercialisation of IP and is governed by the University's Intellectual Property Policy (opens in a new window)
Ownership of IP that is produced within the University is determined in accordance with this policy, the contractual conditions of research grants, and the agreements with collaborative partners. Western Sydney University believes in rewarding all staff who have produced IP within the University by including them in the share from the commercialisation of IP.
Protected IP can be commercialised through assignment or licenses. Assignment refers to the sale of a patent, design, trademark, copyright or trade secret. Licensing is a common form of exploitation for IP such as copyright, patents, plant breeders rights, designs and trademarks. Businesses pay a licensing fee and usually a royalty stream to the University for the right to use, produce and market the IP. Licenses can be negotiated exclusively or non-exclusively; be time limited; and geographically limited.
Annual reporting of research activity
All research income received in a calendar year by the University can be reported to the Department of Education, as part of the Higher Education Research Data Collection (HERDC). This income return then feeds into the allocation of JRE, RTS, SRE and RIBG. For the purpose of the annual external research income return to the Department of Education, the definition of Research and Experimental Development (R&D) is as follows:
'Research and experimental development comprises creative work undertaken on a systematic basis in order to increase the stock of knowledge, including knowledge of man [sic], culture and society and the use of this stock of knowledge to devise new applications.'
Any activity classified as research and experimental development is characterised by originality; it should have investigation as a primary object and should have the potential to produce results that are sufficiently general for humanity's stock of knowledge (theoretical and/or practical) to be recognisably increased.
- Pure basis research
- Strategic basic research
- Applied research
- Experimental development
The processes of the Higher Education Research and Development Collection (HERDC), however, involve many exclusions.
The following are some exclusions from the Department of Education annual external research income return:
- National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS), Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage-Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities (LIEF), and Independent Research Institutes Infrastructure Support Scheme (IIRIS) grants
- Grants from the Higher Education Endowment Fund (HEEF) or the Education Investment Fund (EIF)
- Funds received through the ARC's Research Networks scheme
- Funds from the Commonwealth Grants Scheme (CGS)
- Funds provided specifically for the purpose of hosting, organising or travel to and attending a conference, workshop or meeting unless funds are specifically for enabling access to a program of research
- Funds provided specifically for the purpose of producing research publications (that is, for publishing research rather than conducting it)
- Consultancy fees for projects that do not meet the definition of research
- Income from the High Performance Computing and Communications Program, to or through the Australian Partnership for Advanced Computing
- Income provided for preparation for teaching
- Funds used for:
- Scientific and technical information services
- General purpose or routine data collection
- Standardisation and routine testing
- Feasibility studies (except into research and experimental development projects)
- Specialised routine medical care
- Commercial, legal and administrative aspects of patenting, copyright or licensing activities
- Routine computer programming, systems work or software maintenance.
- Grants from the following Department of Education programs:
- Research Training Scheme (RTS)
- Joint Research Engagement (JRE)
- Sustainable Research Excellence (SRE)
- Research Infrastructure Block Grants (RIBG)
- Australian Postgraduate Awards (APA)
- International Postgraduate Research Scheme Awards (IPRS)
- Collaborative Research Networks (CRN)
A full list of exclusions is available each year as part of the HERDC Specification for the collection of research data. Please see the Department of Education and Training (opens in a new window) for further information.