Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT University)

Q&A Calum Drummond | Casting the net wider for real world results

Nature 552 (7 December 2017)
Published online 6 December 2017

What does research and innovation mean at RMIT?

RMIT was founded 130 years ago as the Working Men's College. Today, it is an applied university and more than 60% of our research revenue comes from industry sources, rather than competitive government discovery-driven grants. We recognize that we need to continue to advance knowledge, but we go a step further by taking fundamental research and packaging it to benefit end-users.

Why and how did you create the Enabling Capability Platform (ECP) structure?

We felt a new structure outside traditional research institutes could help better deploy our research beyond the university sector. To identify our focus areas we looked at four key criteria: Critical mass — did we have the people and infrastructure to make a difference of world standing? Quality — was our work any good? Differentiation — were there thousands of other players in that space nationally and globally? And finally, applicability — could it be used by a company, not-for-profit, or government agency? If we got a tick on all of those four questions then that area became an Enabling Capability Platform. They signal to the world that these are where we think we have very strong capabilities on a global scale that will be able to assist external bodies reach business, social, environmental or government objectives.

We go a step further by taking fundamental research and packaging it to benefit end-users

Calum Drummond
Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research and Innovation and Vice President

How do the ECPs maximise RMIT’s expertise?

ECPs draw upon capabilities from across the university, whether, for example, it’s infrastructure or subject matter experts. Any academic or a PhD student can affiliate with one or more ECPs and, so far, more than 75% of our academics have registered. The funding structure also sets up clear pathways to impact through well-defined steps, called value milestones. These steps could spell out how to get to, for example, a minimum viable product or a proof-of-concept device. Or spell out the kind of outside buy-in you need from, for example, a government partner, to get real insights into policy areas.

The ECPs are two years old. What has been the response so far?

There is a great appetite to engage with the ECPs and to find out what they can add to other people's operations or activities. And we are bringing the whole of university capability into external stakeholder discussions. We are now bolstering this by also developing strategic cross-ECP innovation capabilities for high impact, and address complex problems with innovative multi-disciplinary solutions.

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