The Excellence in Research for Australia 2012 National Report, published on 6 December, showed that there had been a 24 per cent increase in the amount of research being undertaken since the previous exercise in 2010. There was also a 16 per cent increase in the number of patents and a 9 per cent rise in the number of researchers employed.
“Language, communication and culture” and “biological sciences” were the subjects in which the largest numbers of universities were rated as world standard or better - some 28 out of 41 institutions.
An analysis of the results done by The Australian found that the University of Melbourne had the highest proportion of top-rated research, with 85.5 per cent of its research fields given four or five stars - where four means “above world standard” and five is “well above world standard”.
The University of Sydney was a close second at 84.5 per cent, rising from fifth in 2010. The Australian National University and the University of Queensland came joint third at 80 per cent.
The ERA exercise, carried out by the Australian Research Council, applies to research published between 1 January 2005 and 31 December 2010. Evaluation is based on indicators including citation analysis, research income and patents, alongside expert review.
Chris Evans, the science and research minister, said the government would undertake the next round of evaluations in 2015, with the ARC consulting the sector on the inclusion of measures of the impact of research, in order to help better track university performance.
Results from the ERA will inform the allocation of a small but growing proportion of universities’ block grants for research. The data are also intended to help universities and the government in strategic planning.