Supporting research in Australian Universities: A Model of Engagement

Year: 2012

Author: Sebalj, Darlene, Holbrook, Allyson, Bourke, Sid

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


Government accountability, performance and legislative frameworks applied to university research activity are administered by Research Managers and Administrators (RMA).  To fulfil these and related functions RMAs are applying an increasingly specialised skill set in the workplace underscored by an ever-growing international profile as an emerging profession.  Yet early literature and commentary in this area indicates that the RMA role and contribution to research activity is relatively unknown and unrecognised by research academics and other stakeholders.    

In this session findings from a doctoral study involving 194 RMAs located in centralised research service offices of 36 Australian universities will be presented.  This research provides a first-time Australian perspective addressing questions on profile, role and professional alignment and workplace relationships of this largely unknown group.  The exploratory, descriptive and perspective-seeking nature of this research consisted of a mixed methods design that was primarily qualitative in focus.  The study's research instruments included an online questionnaire and two follow-up semi-structured telephone interviews involving a subgroup of respondents.

The demographic and profile characteristics of respondents will be presented.  Insight is given into their professional alignment with reference to professional characteristics and perceived stakeholder regard.  The role and functional responsibilities of the studied group are discussed together with a look at their accountability and performance expectations.  Respondents' perceptions regarding their workplace relations with stakeholders will be explored with emphasis on interactions with academic researchers. 

Following presentation of the study's key findings an overview of a 'Model of Engagement' will be provided.  This model, which emerged from this research, maps how respondents connect to knowledge production in universities through three levels of engagement with academic researchers.  The three levels identified in the model are: 'Support', 'Value-Adding' and 'Co-Contribution'.

This research involved RMA from the most junior to the most senior and should therefore be of interest across all levels of responsibility.  The study's findings also have strategic implications and would therefore be of particular interest to senior managers, policy makers and academic researchers.