Why Research Impact Clusters

While acknowledging the need for discipline-based research excellence (as assessed through ARC ERA), current government policy settings provide a strong focus on engagement with end users of research and on the social, environmental or economic impact of that research (as assessed through ARC E&I). The ARC action plan from a recent review of both ERA and E&I brings these two assessment exercises into a single framework. The new stated vision is “That rigorous and transparent research assessment informs and promotes Australian universities’ pursuit of research that is excellent, engaged with community, industry and government, and delivers social, economic, environmental and cultural impact.” An emphasis on research impact and engagement is also essential for accessing funding from industry and government sources beyond the national competitive schemes.

SCU sees an opportunity to form research impact clusters (‘clusters’), bringing together researchers from different disciplinary backgrounds, to carry out research that is excellent, engaged and impactful. This will allow SCU to focus its research strengths and to tackle big problems in areas such as the future of farming, natural resources, health and wellbeing in partnership with community, industry and government.

Research Impact Clusters are being developed based on:

  • the current research strengths of the university, and future needs and aspirations;
  • developing opportunities both internal and external;
  • alignment with national priorities and with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Research Impact Clusters will provide:

  • a platform for SCU to showcase its core research strengths and the impact of its work;
  • greater visibility of SCUs capability to tackle significant local or global problems in defined areas of focus;
  • the main mechanism through which the university will provide strategic research investment;
  • support for engagement and partnerships with external organisations who may be funders and/or the beneficiaries of the research;
  • leadership and coordination of cross-disciplinary and multi-partner collaboration to access funding sources and opportunities at a greater scale;
  • a platform for research capability development activities including for higher degree by research (HDR)

Research Impact Clusters will NOT replace Faculties, Schools and Research Centres:

  • Faculties and Schools will remain the academic organising units;
  • Faculties and Schools will continue to be the “home” of academic staff, students and affiliates;
  • Research Centres focused on specific disciplinary expertise or problems may still operate where endorsed by Faculties;
  • Additional leadership positions will be created to lead the work of the

Research Impact Cluster membership

  • Academic staff from across the university will have an opportunity to be a member of one or more cluster;
  • Membership of a cluster provides access to cluster resources provided as a result of strategic research investment, such as HDR scholarships and seed funding;
  • Membership of a cluster comes with responsibilities to act in the best interests of the cluster (and the university), including collaborating on funding bids and projects,
  • Members will be expected to participate in cluster activities, including research capability development for HDR students/ECRs/MCRs,
  • HDR students will be encouraged to become members of clusters and participate in cluster activities.


Each cluster will have a leadership team with the following responsibilities:

  • Develop a vision and goals for the cluster that are agreed by the members and endorsed by the University;
  • Engage with external stakeholders to identify partnership and funding opportunities and bring those opportunities to the attention of cluster members;
  • Facilitate cross-disciplinary research through providing forums for sharing of knowledge and ideas;
  • Work with university senior management to identify and secure large partnership opportunities and to source external funding;
  • Work with the university senior management to identify strategic funding needs for the cluster and to utilise university resources most effectively;
  • Facilitate capability development opportunities for cluster members, focused in particular on engagement and impact;
  • Provide development opportunities for HDR


Each Cluster will be formed through a consultative developmental process that will include the following:

  • Formative analysis of research performance, identified research strengths and research leadership potential;
  • Survey of research capability, interest and track record;
  • Identification of potential clusters and leadership based on defined strategic priorities and emerging University strategic focus;
  • Presentation and feedback process on proposed Cluster Plans at a Research Leaders Forum;
  • Broad Expression of Interest process for joining specific Research Impact Clusters;
  • Presentation of final Cluster plans and focus to all SCU Researchers;
  • Allocation of funding for identified cluster projects;
  • Participation in capability development activities, common to all clusters and also specific to a cluster as defined in the Cluster

Performance and Accountability

Each Research Impact Cluster will be supported to achieve and demonstrate:

  • Research excellence as recognised through external peer review (nationally and internationally), including citations, rankings and external awards;
  • Effective collaboration between researchers working across the university to tackle complex research problems;
  • Visible engagement with regional and/or national and international organisations and partners in the context of nationally and/or globally significant research;
  • Significant funding to the University or research partners where infrastructure investment aligns directly with research capacity;
  • Responsiveness to identified needs and strategic opportunities at a variety of scales (local to global) and evidence of significant impact as a result of research collaboration;
  • Outputs that have both global scholarly impact as well as being disseminated in accessible formats for end-users;
  • Contribution towards the University’s participation in THE Impact Rankings;
  • Alignment, reciprocity, and engagement of external partners with Cluster

Strategic Research Investment

A range of funding opportunities will be made available to Clusters when formed. Part of the process of Cluster planning will be to work with cluster leadership to identify shared needs and scope for investment that has clear strategic benefit to the University outlined in the 2020 Research Plan and so on. While this will not be the only way in which research funding is distributed across the University, it will increasingly become the primary focus for strategic investment by the University.

Capability Development

The formation of Research Impact Clusters is a key part of the University’s focus on researcher capability development. Part of the process of Cluster planning will be to work with and across clusters to identify priorities for capability development in the context of our mission to raise research performance across the university.

Indicative areas of capability development may include:

  • Specific research methodologies
  • Media and researcher profile development
  • Entrepreneurship and lean model canvas techniques for project design
  • Co-design approaches with industry partners
  • Pitching research to non-traditional


It is anticipated that each Cluster will have multiple layers of strategically aligned activity. As a Cluster gathers momentum, these additional layers of activity will be realised in line with each Cluster plan.

  • Research Impact Cluster - a multidisciplinary thematic cluster with a precise definition of its impact objectives.
  • SDGs - mapped and explicit SDGs as the basis for participation in THE Impact Rankings.
  • Industry Partners - key partners relevant to impact cluster objectives that span multiple cluster activities.
  • Projects - specific multidisciplinary collaborative projects with a research and/or education outcome.
  • Philanthropic Partners - current or prospective philanthropic partnerships to fund impact objectives.
  • HDR Students - cohort of HDR students formed through scholarship provision.

Collaboration for Research Impact

A move towards Research Impact Clusters provides further basis for collaboration between the Research and Engagement portfolios of the University. As the Clusters will be a focal point for strategic research investment, they will similarly be the primary focus for support by the various functions that comprise the Engagement portfolio, such as media, marketing, partnership, philanthropy and government relations.