Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics Research Forum/Position Paper
The Distinctive Nature of ITP Research
There are a number of definitions of research used in the tertiary education environment. According to NZQA’s definition, research is:
… an intellectually controlled investigation which leads to advances in knowledge through the discovery and codification of new information or the development of further understanding about existing information, and practice.
It is a creative, cumulative and independent activity conducted by people with knowledge of the theories, methods and information of the principal field of inquiry and its cognate areas(s). Research typically involves either investigation of an experimental or critical nature, or artistic endeavour of the type exemplified by musical composition.
The results of research must be open to scrutiny and formal evaluation by others in the field of enquiry and this may be achieved through publication in peer-reviewed books and serials, or through public presentation.
Perhaps a more useful definition of research from an ITP perspective is that of Boyer (Boyer, 1997) that gives four classifications of research, namely:
• the Scholarship of discovery, which contributes to the stock of human knowledge and is most akin to traditional conceptualisations of research
• the Scholarship of integration, which makes connections across disciplines and contexts and interprets findings in a more comprehensive understanding
• the Scholarship of application, in which theory and practice come together in scholarly service and can be seen as akin to applied research and technology development and transfer; and
• the Scholarship of teaching, which requires the highest form of understanding and incorporates the “transfer” component of technology development and transfer.
Research undertaken within the tertiary education environment – including that undertaken by Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics (ITPs) and universities – covers:
- discovery or blue sky research – addressing questions where the outcome is not known
- development or applied research – activities aimed at answering questions or problems where the fundamentals are understood, and an application is developed because of its foreseen utility
- integration and technology development and transfer – activities involving the development of products, systems and applications where problems of implementation in NZ companies are solved and/or adapted to NZ conditions.
Funding to support research is allocated either directly through the allocation of research grants or purchase of research outputs from a provider, or through the competitive allocation of TEC funding on the basis of quality as determined by the PBRF assessment process.
Why do ITPs research
ITPs carry out research to support:
- the development and delivery of qualifications and programmes ;
- innovation in the professions and vocations they work alongside;
- innovation and development in teaching and learning; and
- economic, social and cultural development of their regions.
In this, ITPs are not distinct from universities who carry out research for the same reasons. What is distinct about many ITPs when compared with universities is the focus of research activities, that is, while the activities may be similar, the focus for research activity in the ITP sector is the external profession/industry/vocational area/community while in the university the focus is the academic community.
Contribution ITPs make to the economic, social and cultural development of New Zealand
Through their research activities, ITPs make a positive contribution to the social, economic and cultural landscape of New Zealand. The focus of their research activity is on applied research, integration and technology development and transfer that supports and adds value to their stakeholders/communities. In this the ITP sector is well positioned to respond to the emerging focus for tertiary education research as spelled out in the Draft Tertiary Education Strategy 2010 to 2015 as outlined below (NZ Government, 2009):
The Government is taking a long-term perspective on research and innovation policies, and believes New Zealand must have a strong contribution to research and innovation from the tertiary education sector. Research-driven innovation will be a major factor in helping New Zealand industries to become more productive.
As well as underpinning good teaching, high quality research is critical for economic growth. However, public investment in research on its own does not drive economic growth: it is firms that translate public research into profit. Better linkages between firms, universities and other public research organisations will inform firms of the research that may be relevant to them, and inform researchers of the research that firms want and need.
What is unique about the ITP sector is its willingness and ability to engage directly with the professions, communities, businesses and industries it works with, to directly address issues and problems encountered by the industry/community/business/ profession and the wide range of initiatives it is able to support, for example, product design and prototyping, process redesign, evaluation of programme effectiveness or the development of commercialisable outputs for industry. See Appendix One for examples of outputs from across the ITP sector.
The ITP is successful in responding to the needs of external stakeholders because it is:
Responsive to the needs of industry rather than being driven by an internal programme of research
Flexible, able to work directly on the issues and problems encountered by stakeholders by supporting seamless approaches that integrate the workplace with the staff and students of an institution
Willing to work directly with an enterprise no matter how small
Collaborative. Increasingly the ITP sector is working together to maximise opportunities to support the needs of stakeholders. Collaborative venture occur nationally, within a region and internationally.
The establishment of Innovating New Zealand to support this responsive, flexible and collaborative approach to meeting the needs of stakeholders is an indicator of the willingness of the ITP sector to make a positive impact on the social, cultural and economic landscape of New Zealand
Future opportunities and constraints
Many ITPs have established industry outreach centres and/or incubators aimed at supporting the economic development of their region. With the introduction of Innovating NZ the ITP sector has the opportunity to establish a regionally networked, New Zealand-wide entity able to support enterprises to meet their development aspirations. Innovating NZ has been established under an ESI grant from TEC that provides seeding funding for three years. After this period it is expected that the model will have a well established and sustainable business model that supports enterprise’s demand for product development, prototyping, systems development, enterprise capability development; advice and support, evaluation and technology transfer.
Having said that, on-going funding will be an issue. At present the Government recognises that the PBRF does not adequately support the type of research activities needed to support enterprise development. It is proposing changes to the PBRF and implementing a voucher system for enterprises to purchase research from recognised providers. The ITP sector welcomes these changes and proposes that simple changes could be made to existing funding instruments to further incentivise activity.
Incentives and support to grow innovation and research in the ITP sector
In 2004 the TEC introduced Business Links funding, to be allocated to ITPs to support engagement with industry. While this pool of funding has been successful in supporting engagement with industry as show by the examples in Appendix One, the opportunity of the next Investment round in 2011 presents an opportunity to redesign these funds as a competitive funding pool allocated on the basis of quality of outcomes.
The Metro group of ITPs believes that if this funding pool were made available on a competitive basis alongside the PBRF, the ITP sector would be strongly incentivised to continue to focus its research activity on the needs of the enterprises, professions, industries and communities, while at the same time ensuring that the qualifications they provide are underpinned by high quality research. This funding pool could be renamed the ITP Technology Development and Transfer Performance Fund (ITPTTF).
Quality measures for assessment and allocation of this ITPTTF should utilise outcome measures that focus on the impact of the activity rather than just its output. In this way, the value added by the activity and therefore its “quality” could be measured and assessed. Some measures that could be used to assess impact and value of the research activity are outlined in the table below.
Research Type Possible Measures of Impact
Applied Research/ Technology development and transfer/ consultancy • Number of businesses spun out of an incubator
• Number of patents awarded
• Number of projects undertaken for industry
• Number of innovations commercialised or put into practice
• Number of units manufactured/sold
• Royalties paid on intellectual property
• Number of times research has resulted in changes to professional practice and/or policy
• Number of other professions/organisations/enterprises adopting practices
• Endorsement as best practice through benchmarking or similar activities
• Renewal of cultural practices measured through increased activity <br • Number of books/articles published/sold
Creative work • Number of performances of a play/dance/performance
• Number of people visiting an art exhibition and/or number of times exhibition picked up/toured
• Number of books/performances/works/publications sold
• Renewal of cultural practices measured through increased activity in relation to creative work
• Changes to policy and/or community practices
• Royalties paid on intellectual property
• Number of citations by other researchers of original work
The Metro group of ITPs do not support removal of the legislative requirement for degree teaching “to be undertaken mainly by people actively engaged in research” as it is agreed that research should continue to inform teaching and the quality of that research should be rewarded. Any institution offering degree programmes should continue to have access to the funding pool available through the PBRF. The Metro group of ITPs believe that as they further develop the research culture of their institutions, they will be increasingly successful in gaining funding from this pool.
At the same time, the Metro group of ITPS welcomes the willingness of the Government to review the ability of the PBRF to adequately recognise applied research and look forward to this weakness being addressed for the 2012 round.
Boyer, E. L. (1997). Scholarship reconsidered: Priorities of the professoriate. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
NZ Government (2009). Draft Tertiary Education Strategy 2010 to 2015. Ministry of Education; Wellington. http://www.minedu.govt.nz/theMinistry/Consultation/TertiaryEducationStrategyDraft.aspx
Examples of innovation and applied research in the ITP sector
Examples from Wellington Institute of Technology
Students tackle energy consumption
Around 100 WelTec students took part in a collaborative product design and development project for Meridian Energy during 2007. Drawn from visual arts, interior design, digital media, information technology and engineering programmes, they formed multidisciplinary working teams to create a design to help people manage energy consumption in their homes. The teams received a project brief and were sent off to develop ideas, come up with a design and present it to a selection panel. Some of the designs have gone onto the next stage of commercial development with Meridian.
From prototype to export order in record time
Rubber and plastic moldings manufacturer Synapco Industries had a challenge – to design, prototype and build a specialist gluing machine, and be ready for production, all in 10 weeks. The cost of not meeting the deadline was losing an important export order from an Australian customer. Company owner David Ussher turned to WelTec’s Centre for Smart Product for help. “They needed some fairly specialist production equipment to put hot glue on the inside of a molded component,” said Paul Mather, Director of the Centre. “So we helped them to design and prototype that piece of equipment.” David says if it weren’t for WelTec’s rapid prototyping facility, Synapco would never have made the deadline.