Review charts way forward for world leadership in health and medical research

14 June 2013

The University of Sydney's primacy in health and medical research will be secured into the future thanks to an independent review's guidance on how to optimise its considerable resources to achieve global leadership in collaborative cross-disciplinary research, aimed at solving society's significant health challenges.

The Health and Medical Research Strategic Review, chaired by Mr Peter Wills AC, was commissioned by Vice-Chancellor Dr Michael Spence to assist the University to strategically position itself over the next decade amidst changes to the health and medical research sector in Australia and globally.

The University of Sydney has a proud tradition of health and medical research that has scale, quality, breadth of capability and extensive links to the state health system. It is one of the largest health and medical research enterprises in Australia, producing high-quality research outputs across diverse fields.

However, recent NSW and Commonwealth Government health and medical research reviews herald major reforms in funding priorities, with a shift towards rewarding large scale partnerships and collaborations that address major community health challenges and heath care costs.

The review's purpose was to examine whether the University of Sydney's loosely structured and complex research environment, running successfully yet without a broadly communicated collective vision, clearly stated research priorities, and structured co-ordination, could build scale where needed to quickly seize opportunities and maintain its pre-eminence in this new environment.

It was commissioned in line with the University of Sydney's Strategic Plan 2011-2015 which commits the University to further developing our capacity to identify and support research excellence, through refining our governance structures, developing major cross-disciplinary initiatives in research and education, and optimally supporting our research talent and research leaders.

"The Health and Medical Research Strategic Review is an exciting opportunity for the University to consider how it might do things differently. By simply relying on the considerable talents of our researchers, we are achieving through good fortune rather than design. It is time to focus and optimise our resources in a way that will increase our impact and leverage our strengths," Dr Spence said.

The review was asked to consider how the University of Sydney should: strategically focus efforts on clear priorities that respond to society's needs; improve structure and governance while maintaining benefits of local innovation and discovery; and improve researcher support through information resources and infrastructure needed to increase collaboration.

The Review's recommendations include:

  • The establishment of four strategic priority areas for research focus that build on the University's research strengths, inspire its researchers and address national and international health challenges - obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease; cancer; mental health and neuroscience; and infectious diseases. Within these areas optimising capacity to contribute to integrated healthcare, population health and health services, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, as well as increasing industry links and our focus on practical application.
  • Facilitating research excellence and impact by making strengths in these strategic areas highly visible to health care providers and industry, to support strong partnerships that increase opportunities for translation and commercialisation. Making outstanding staff supported by state-of-the-art research facilities the hallmarks of its research excellence. This includes placing renewed emphasis on support and training to attract and retain researchers of the highest quality.
  • Establishing strong effective governance with clear lines of authority accountability and responsibility to enhance overall research performance and enable greater integration with the health care provider network to increase translation into better health outcomes for individuals, communities and populations.
  • Enhancing business processes and IT systems to facilitate cross-disciplinary, cross-faculty and cross-organisational health and medical research.

In receiving the review Dr Spence congratulated Mr Peter Wills AC and the distinguished panel on their extensive consultation with staff and the nation's health and medical sectors, as well as the detail of their advice. Dr Spence will now consider the adoption of the review's recommendations in consultation with an executive steering committee which will be established to plan and oversee their implementation.

"The University of Sydney, as outlined in its Strategic Plan, strives to create a university environment in which there is freedom for individual researchers to pursue their own lines of inquiry, but also an evidence-based understanding of our research strengths and an institutional ability to invest strategically in research and education projects of national, regional and international importance," Dr Spence said.

"The University of Sydney takes great pride in our research programs which explore new frontiers of knowledge in areas of national and global importance, seeking solutions to current and future complex, real-world problems.

"This review, with its focus on how the University can achieve greater collaborative cross-disciplinary research and maximise the potential of its research enterprise, provides a blueprint to ensure we continue our leadership in health and medical research into the future."

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