The Practical Impact of Academic Research in the Construction Industry

In construction it is clear that researchers have got to keep up with industry needs. In the past, when construction firms have helped fund research, they’ve seen these take too long to actually produce any findings; that they have little practical use, and might end up raising more questions than conclusions.

As part of the National Innovation and Science Agenda, the federal government is proposing to measure the practical impact of academic research as a decision-making parameter for research and tertiary education funding.

Though this has been successfully done overseas for quite a while, it is a controversial measure, as some argue that measuring research impact threatens academic freedom, as it forces researchers to abide by the commercial interests of big businesses. Those opposed to these measures also believe it is extremely difficult to quantify or determine the value of research, as some findings might only become practical in the distant future.

The overall argument for measuring research impact is that while the above points are valid, researchers and academics need to be realistic. As government spending on research and tertiary education diminishes, academics’ future will depend on being more relevant to today’s society.

While the Australian construction industry recognises the importance of academics’ freedom to carry out this type of blue-sky research, for them to keep up with international competition, there needs to be a lot more collaboration – where researchers are funded by large construction firms to produce relevant findings –, as China, the USA, the EU, and the UK are all ahead of us in coming up with new solutions to real industry problems.

What has also been seen, however, are technologies developed by Australian universities being adopted by the Chinese construction industry, as our local firms are too reluctant to support research. So our problem is that we have world class universities and large construction firms who can only benefit from one another, if only they decide to compromise and collaborate.

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