Reforming structure and governance

Strategic objective 3

Establish 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.

The success of the SPARCs and the strength of Sydney’s health and medical research overall will depend greatly on the effectiveness of the structural and governance arrangements that support them. In terms of the SPARCs, Sydney has already taken several actions to promote cross-disciplinary, cross-faculty and cross-organisational research collaborations that also respond to the needs and expectations of government, funders and society – principally through the Charles Perkins Centre (CPC), the Sydney Research Networks Scheme (SyReNS), and networks such as the Cancer Research Network and the Sydney Health Policy Network. However, feedback to the review indicated a need for greater clarity about how such collaborative ventures are governed and operate, how smaller networks could progress as they become successful, and how agreements are made and operational support is provided. It is in this context that the review formulated the underlying modus operandi of these collaborative research networks that span disciplines, faculties and in some cases organisations, and developed a framework for strengthening and harmonising their governance, taking into account that they operate at different scales.

Recommendation 6

Align the governance of the SPARCs with the scalable governance framework for collaborative research networks, and formally recognise that the modus operandi of the SPARCs is the matrix approach which integrates faculty-based disciplinary excellence and cross-disciplinary engagement.

Key actions

  • Adopt the governance framework for collaborative research networks that are cross-disciplinary, cross-faculty and cross-organisational (for example medical research institutes, health care and industry partners).
  • Using a transparent competitive process, select and appoint academic directors for each of the SPARCs and charge each with developing its strategy.
  • Form a SPARC leadership group from the academic directors of the SPARCs and make it responsible for monitoring and reporting on all the SPARCs.
  • Recognise the SPARCs as the University’s formal mechanism for connecting with the NSW Research Hubs (NSW Hubs).

Implementing the proposed strategy to enhance health and medical research collaboration at Sydney will require senior-level oversight and support. The review is recommending therefore that the University establish a new Pro Vice-Chancellor position, reporting to the Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Research, to oversee the coordination and support of the SPARCs and the centrally managed core research facilities program.

Recommendation 7

Establish a new Pro Vice-Chancellor, Research (PVCR), position to oversee the implementation of the SPARCs and the necessary collaborative infrastructure, and to provide oversight and support for the performance and outcomes of the large-scale cross-faculty research collaborations and partnerships.

Key actions

  • Recruit and appoint the Pro Vice-Chancellor, Research.
  • Establish a team within the Research Portfolio to support the PVCR with the implementation and ongoing oversight of the SPARCs.

Data on research performance, collaboration, coherence and focus clearly suggest that some of the key health and medical disciplines are fragmented by geography as well as by organisational structures. This weakens the disciplines themselves and compromises their capacity to support cross-disciplinary and cross-faculty collaborations. Consolidation of the organisational units responsible for nurturing these key disciplines may therefore be warranted. The review heard that geographical, and intellectual, isolation is felt particularly by researchers in Health Sciences (currently the only faculty on the Lidcombe Campus) and Nursing and Midwifery (currently in sub-optimal facilities on Mallett Street). With the completion of the CPC building, there will be an important opportunity to collocate cognate disciplines, and in particular to bring researchers in Nursing and Midwifery, and Health Sciences onto the Camperdown Campus in a health precinct around the CPC building.

Recommendation 8

Require each of the faculties involved in health and medical research to individually and collectively consider their internal structures (schools, research groups) so they are optimising research disciplinary excellence and engagement with the SPARCs.

Key actions

  • Support the faculties with data analysis and tools to consider options for strengthening key disciplines, with particular emphasis on those disciplines essential for the SPARCs.

Recommendation 9

Collocate the health faculties into a smaller number of precincts to minimise geographical isolation of particular research groups and to maximise opportunities for collaboration and the development of critical mass.

Key actions

  • Capitalise on the occupation of the CPC building and attendant decanting of space to strategically collocate health disciplines and create a coherent health and medical research precinct on the Camperdown Campus.
  • Conduct a broad consultation to explore how decision-making and planning within and between the health divisions might be improved.

There has been a proliferation of research centres both within the University and affiliated externally with it. These range from viable large-scale operations to unsustainable small-scale groupings. Some are recognised brands. Many place an unnecessary administrative burden on the University, and their activities could easily be incorporated into existing organisational units.

A depiction of the scale of networks from small to large scale

Above: The framework for scalable governance of collaborative research networks. Click to enlarge.

Recommendation 10

Strengthen the requirements in the University Centres Policy to provide more focused reviews of sustainability and risk. Provide resources for the Group Secretary Office (GSO) to complete reviews of all centres and institutes.

Key actions

  • Review all internal health and medical research entities in line with the amended Centres Policy and where appropriate wind up or amalgamate entities to strengthen critical mass, improve coordination and increase efficiencies.
  • Provide resources for the GSO to develop and maintain a comprehensive list of all health and medical research entities associated with the University.
  • Establish a single point of responsibility for centres administration to enable planning, resourcing and reporting in a cost-effective manner.

The medical research institutes (MRIs) are critically important to the University’s medical research community. However, issues of financial sustainability, blurred reporting lines and accountabilities, and the University’s legal liability in the event of a finding against an institute are unresolved. Secure and strategic partnering between the University, the independent institutes and the hospital-owned institutes would provide a solid foundation for managing the University’s relationships with the proposed NSW Hubs and national Integrated Health Research Centres. The governance framework (Recommendation 6) with its formal collaboration agreements offers that opportunity.

Recommendation 11

Actively seek strategic engagement with medical research institutes, health-care providers and industry and support their participation in and benefit from the SPARCs.

Key actions

  • Initiate round tables and workshops to engage potential participants broadly, as was done for the CPC, in developing research strategies for each of the SPARCs.