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Module 6: Grant and Contract Administration

2.1 Nature of research contracts

2.1.1 Difference between consulting and engaging in research

As an expert in your field, you will be asked to apply your knowledge and expertise to solve problems. When you are approached by an organisation to enter into a ‘research’ contract, you need to be able to identify whether you are being asked to provide a consultancy service, or to engage in genuine research.

If you use pre-existing knowledge and IP, and there is no expectation that new knowledge will be generated, you are not engaged in ‘research’ as defined by the Department of Education, Science and Training (now DIISRTE). You are providing a consultancy service and you will enter into a consultancy agreement. Fees earned through consultancies are not counted as research income and are not taken into consideration in the formula used by DIISRTE to allocate research funds to universities.

In order to meet the DIISRTE definition of research, the subject of the project must involve creative and/or investigative work that will increase the stock of knowledge.

Note: the difference between consulting and research is really only an internal university problem affecting the way they report their income. It is of no consequence to the organisation funding the project. An example of how one project might incorporate both consultancy and research would be one that involves the sequencing of a gene (consultancy) and interpreting the results (research).

Fees earned through consultancies are not counted as research income and are not taken into consideration in the formula used by DIISRTE to allocate research funds to universities.

Definition of consulting

  • Successful completion requires the application of professional skills and experience and the application of pre-existing knowledge and intellectual property.
  • The outcomes are fundamentally predictable.
  • At the time when the agreement is made, there is no expectation that new knowledge suitable for publication will be generated.
  • The project does not require extensive use of university resources or laboratory facilities.
  • Projects involving the routine, small-scale testing of products and processes will generally be classified as consulting projects.

Definition of research from DIISRTE 2011 HERDC Specifications

Research and experimental development comprises:

  • creative work undertaken on a systematic basis in order to increase the stock of knowledge, including knowledge of humanity, culture, and society, and the use of this stock of knowledge to devise new applications (OECD, 2002, Frascati Manual: Proposed Standard Practice for Surveys on Research and Experimental Development, OECD: Paris);
  • any activity classified as research that is characterised by originality; it should have investigation as a primary objective and should have the potential to produce results that are sufficiently general for humanity's stock of knowledge (theoretical and/or practical) to be recognisably increased. Most higher education research work would qualify as research.

Research includes pure basic research, strategic basic research, applied research, and experimental development.
Activities that support research and therefore meet the definition of research are:

  • provision of professional, technical, administrative or clerical support, and/or assistance to staff directly engaged in research and experimental development;
  • management of staff who are either directly engaged in research and experimental development or are providing professional, technical, or clerical support or assistance to those staff;
  • activities of students undertaking postgraduate research courses;
  • development of postgraduate research courses; and
  • supervision of students undertaking postgraduate research courses.

Activities that do not support research may include:

  • preparation for teaching;
  • scientific and technical information services;
  • general purpose or routine data collection;
  • standardisation and routine testing;
  • feasibility studies (except into research and experimental development projects);
  • specialised routine medical care;
  • commercial, legal, and administrative aspects of patenting, copyright, or licensing activities;
  • routine computer programming, systems work, or software maintenance (research and experimental development into applications software, new programming languages, and new operating systems would normally meet the definition of research).
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