BACK TO THE FEATURE INDEX

E ditor's note: Professor David Siddle became deputy vice-chancellor (research) at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, following his appointment in 2001 as the university's pro-vice-chancellor (research). Previously, he was pro-vice-chancellor (research) at the University of Sydney 1997-2001 and dean for postgraduate studies at the University of Queensland 1993-1997. Professor Siddle is responsible for all aspects of the development of the university's profile in research and research training.

The University of Queensland (UQ) is one of Australia's premier comprehensive research-intensive universities. We consider that excellence in research underpins both excellence in teaching and the ability to develop depth in our community partnerships. We aim to achieve international excellence in all types of research and research training, from fundamental, curiosity-driven work that adds to the stock of knowledge to applied research resulting in commercial innovation.

Nationally, we are a founding member of the Group of Eight, an Australian coalition of leading research-intensive universities. Internationally, we are one of only three Australian members of Universitas 21 , a select alliance limited to 25 research-intensive universities dedicated to world-best practice.

To keep pace with global competition, UQ organises its research activity so that it is compatible with international developments and can be measured against specific targets and outcomes. Our key strategies aim to:

  • Develop nodes of international excellence by building on existing strengths; this involves identifying and directing support to priority areas

  • Recognise and reward the very best performance in research and research supervision through targeted funding and through research-excellence and supervision-excellence awards

  • Encourage all new staff to develop active, externally focused research profiles and improve their supervision skills

  • Ensure research outcomes are effectively communicated and, whenever appropriate, commercialised

As part of our strategy, we have identified a number of key areas where we have the necessary critical mass of expertise and infrastructure to be competitive on the world stage. In addition, areas of emerging strength have been identified across the university's seven faculties and four institutes. Other important strategies include the linking of faculty budgets to research performance, using the university's research-only budget to promote research excellence, seed-funding research initiatives, building infrastructure, and using the vice-chancellor's strategic initiatives fund to provide support for major competitive bids.

Although UQ supports a broad research profile as a comprehensive research-intensive institution, it also invests strategically in selected areas to develop critical mass and internationally recognised strength--an approach that has proven an outstanding success. Here, the university has targeted significant investment in key projects and has been able to attract matching financial support from government and external donors.

UQ Research Institutes

Three key research institutes, representing one of the largest concentrations of biological scientists in the world, are examples of UQ's successful approach. They are:

  • The Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB), situated in the Queensland Bioscience Precinct, a state-of-the-art $105 million facility supported by the Queensland State Government, the Commonwealth Government's Federation Fund, the Atlantic Philanthropies, and UQ. The IMB's internationally recognised research into the programming of mammalian development and variation, mapping the structure and dynamics of mammalian cells, and developing new technologies and medicines promises to have a significant impact on human health and quality of life.

  • The Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN), Australia's first integrated research institute in bioengineering and nanotechnology, will be located in a $60 million purpose-built, world-class research complex. AIBN researchers are pushing the frontiers of science with the development of artificial human organs and tissues, vascular grafts grown inside a patient, new drugs, clean energy, environmentally safe pesticides, high value-added manufacturing, and biopolymers. Opportunities for engaging Australian industry will be outstanding.

  • The Queensland Brain Institute . The newly established Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) is dedicated to studying human brain functions. The QBI will develop new molecular, genetic, and imaging technologies to drive neuroscientific discovery. This will not only permit a greater understanding of the regulation and function of the nervous system, but will also increase understanding of more complex areas such as behaviour, cognition, and ageing. The Queensland Premier's $20 million commitment to QBI will ensure construction of this exciting $60 million project.

The university's vice-chancellor recently credited such state-of-the-art research centres with reversing the so-called "brain drain" of Australian academics to overseas postings as well as significantly boosting national commercialisation activity. Institutes such as these have transformed Queensland's standing as a national and international centre for biotech research.

Furthering Our Commitment

It is this commitment to building excellence that sees UQ ranked consistently in the top two or three Australian universities on most widely accepted measures of research performance. UQ spent AUD278 million in 2002 on research-related activities and is continuing to build an internationally competitive infrastructure to support this work. The university's research income has tripled during the past decade, increasing to AUD137 million in 2002. Of this, over AUD53 million was received through industry-related grants, maintaining UQ's position as one of the leading Australian institutions for industry collaboration. The university has also increased its research-only staff numbers by more than 20% over the last 5 years.

The National Survey of Research Commercialisation, published in 2003, provided one of the first opportunities to make comparative assessments of commercial practice across the Australian university sector. UQ performed very strongly, ranking first on invention disclosures, patents issued worldwide, licenses executed, and operational start-up companies where the institution holds equity. It ranked second or third on the majority of other measures in the survey.

A crucial part of our research effort involves the training of graduate research students and UQ currently leads the nation in research higher degree student enrolments. The UQ Graduate School coordinates skills development programs for both graduate research students and their advisors and directs resources to enhance national and international links for research students. The quality of our research training programs is also significantly enhanced by opportunities for experience beyond UQ through support for initiatives such as travel, exchanges, internships, and industry collaboration. The university graduated 457 Ph.D. students in 2003.

UQ is proud of its record of achievement in research, research training, and commercialisation. We have continued to grow our success through the establishment of strategic new world-class research institutes, the development of innovative research and research training programs, the growth in our research-only staff and graduate student numbers, and, of course, an abiding commitment to pursuing excellence. Our achievements can be attributed in large measure to the talent, creativity, and dedication of our staff, and to the fact that there is a shared vision and shared aspirations among this university's community.

Professor David Siddle may be reached at d.siddle@research.uq.edu.au.