Independence is a cornerstone of scholarly endeavour and most (if not all) Australian universities uphold the right to intellectual freedom in their enterprise agreements with staff.
Independence is a cornerstone of scholarly endeavour and most (if not all) Australian universities uphold the right to intellectual freedom in their enterprise agreements with staff. 2 Academics have more freedom to pursue their own research interests than researchers in think tanks or consultancy firms. They also have the freedom to be critical of government policy and to express particular ideologies, as the government is not their client. However, a consequence of this freedom is that there is the potential for academic social research to have less practical application for policy-makers than research conducted by commercial agencies or think tanks. Academics tend to specialise in a particular area of research.
The positives of this specialisation means they can become experts in a particular area. The negatives are that sometimes their field of vision can be too narrow to link in with broader policy issues. Some academics focus on the complexity of social issues and the provisional nature of research findings, rather than drawing conclusions with the intention of influencing policy3 Despite having more freedom to pursue their own research interests, the independence of academics is still constrained by the requirements of university management and academia. Academics are measured by how many articles they publish in peer-reviewed professional publications.
The incentives and reward structures of academia encourage academic researchers to partition up their research findings in order to increase their output and to secure more funding for their research 4 This presents challenges for academics wishing to work closely with government on lengthy applied research projects. At the same time, universities in Australia are becoming more business-like and undertaking more commissioned research.
Some, as discussed above, are even establishing their own think tanks or providing substantial funding towards them.