Research

ResearchResearch is important in developing our reputation as a university committed to solving global problems and improving the welfare of human societies. La Trobe’s research performance on standard metrics also determines our global standing as a university.

We will identify and develop a small number of cross-disciplinary Research Focus Areas (RFAs) that build on our existing and potential strengths, and which address some of the most pressing questions affecting the future of human societies and their environments. These will be areas in which we can lay claim to be one of the best universities in Australia and the world, and which will attract the best students, staff, researchers and external partners. Our La Trobe Hallmark Program will be closely linked to these RFAs.

We will build on these strengths by investing in research leadership, individual researchers and research teams. This will give us the necessary scale to compete successfully for large grants. We will capitalise on significant infrastructure such as AgriBio, the La Trobe Institute of Molecular Sciences, the Research and Development Park, the Northern Biosciences Precinct, the Murray Darling Fresh Water Research Centre and the La Trobe Rural Health School.

In addition to the cross-disciplinary RFAs, we will also provide support to selected specific disciplines (through Disciplinary Research Programs), where there are clear benefits to the University in doing so. Both approaches will contribute significantly to improving our research performance as defined by standard metrics.

Our excellent researchers will be recognised and supported, so that:

  • High-performing researchers will choose to join La Trobe to achieve their ambitions
  • Promising early-career researchers will choose to join us to advance their careers
  • Mid-career researchers will be supported to advance to the next stage of their research careers.

Incentives to recognise and retain excellent researchers will be created.

Addressing the big problems: Research Focus Areas

La Trobe will initially invest in five major University-wide, cross-disciplinary Research Focus Areas (RFAs). Each RFA will:

  • Build on at least two areas of underlying disciplinary strength at La Trobe University where we can demonstrate a comparative advantage
  • Address pressing national or global problems
  • Be easily recognised in the community
  • Attract or retain game-changing external partners
  • Attract or retain sustained, major international relationships
  • Have the potential to double research income from its component parts by 2017
  • Enable a credible claim of strong competitive research advantage by La Trobe
  • Identify existing or potential research leadership
  • Attract and retain outstanding researchers at all stages of their careers
  • Typically link to an innovative Hallmark degree program.

La Trobe will create flexible and powerful structures and systems within the University to match proven internal research capability with significant external partners.

The RFAs that have been selected  following an extensive consultation process with staff are:

Our selected RFAs will be expected to contribute significantly to the University’s research goals and will be subject to periodic review.

Disciplinary research programs

To ensure that we retain the flexibility and agility to respond to new trends, we will also maintain and develop the underlying disciplinary strength of existing and emerging high-performing research teams by allowing additional funding programs to be developed from the ‘bottom up’, funded through a venture capital-like process,  with regular performance evaluation. There will be approximately 20 such programs. Over time, some of these may evolve to anchor future interdisciplinary RFAs.

RFAs and Disciplinary Research Programs will be the primary focus for La Trobe’s investment in research. There will also be scope for the University to support individual researchers who are outstanding when measured against recognised performance measures including success in attracting substantial external research funding.

Our staff

All academic staff, whether part of an RFA, Research Program or not, are expected to aspire to become Established Productive Researchers (EPRs) and will be encouraged and supported to do so.  This will involve changes to La Trobe’s staffing and performance:

  • The proportion of Established Productive Researchers will be increased by clear goal setting, and through improved performance management and support for staff
  • Individual development plans will be agreed with staff to assist them to transition to EPR status and maintain performance at this level
  • La Trobe will develop a pipeline of young academic talent by attracting more postgraduate research students and Early Career Researchers (through the La Trobe post-doctoral program), and by creating more opportunities for secure employment of young researchers
  • Our employment conditions and industrial framework will be reviewed to support staff who demonstrate capacity to commercialise intellectual property or engage in research collaboration with partners.

Alternatively, academic staff who wish to do so and who have the necessary potential will be supported to take on more specialised roles, such as Teaching Scholar.

Research training

La Trobe will provide some of the best facilities and supervision for research students in Australia, particularly in the RFAs, including those that will best improve their future career prospects. They will be offered supplementary coursework and specialist training, some attracting additional credit towards their postgraduate qualifications. Those higher degree students working within RFAs and in other fields where there are established links with industry partners will be offered opportunities to explore innovations and applications in the workplace.

Research partnerships

La Trobe will develop deep partnerships for its RFAs and other programs to broaden the range of avenues for funding support, and to transform our research scope, scale and capability. These partners will help raise our research efforts to new levels of national and international significance. An exemplary partnership is that with the Victorian State Government Department of Primary Industries, which has led to the development of the world-class AgriBio research facility at Bundoora. La Trobe will appoint talented people to partnership development and commercialisation roles for each of the RFAs.

Research targets

Goal

Baseline 2010

2017 Target 

Improve research quality At east 2 Fields of Research (FoRs) at 2- or 4-digit level ranked in the world top 100 measured against the Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) and University Assessment of Research Quality (UARQ)
A 50% increase in 4-digit FoRs rated ‘at 3 or above’ world standard
Identify, develop and implement strategically important research partnerships At least 6 new external partnerships to be established, specifically: 3 international partnerships and 3 national partnerships
Increase cross-disciplinary research collaborations At least 1 major successful Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) or Centre of Excellence bid led by La Trobe researchers in each RFA
Double total research income (all categories) $41.73 million  $84 million
Improve student satisfaction as measured by the Postgraduate Research Experience Questionnaire Top 12 nationally in ‘overall student satisfaction’ in each Field of Education
Derive a high proportion of research income from La Trobe RFAs Two-thirds of the total increased income to come from RFAs
Improve La Trobe’s international research-based institutional ranking Academic Ranking of World Universities: 468th Top 300 in the Academic Ranking of World Universities

Future related plans

Further detail of the strategies and actions to be pursued in Research will be found in:

  • Research Plan 2013–2017