Research and innovation

Research and innovation at UON goes from strength to strength underpinned by the facilitation of strong international partnerships. This positions UON as a driver of economic growth across the region and helps to build our connections with industry, business, government and the community.

The year ended on a high note with the release of the Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) Assessment where 90 per cent of UON research was rated ‘at world standard or above’ and 38 fields of research were rated either ‘above world standard’ or ‘well above world standard’. This placed UON in the top eight universities for research that is ‘well above world standard’ and positions UON as one of the top research universities in the country.

2015 key figures

2015 Key figures - Research and innovation

2015 highlights

  • $8.0m in funding secured for a total of 21 projects under the Australian Research Council’s (ARC’s) Discovery Projects, Linkage Infrastructure Equipment and Facilities (LIEF) scheme, Discovery Early Career Researcher Awards (DECRA) and Discovery Indigenous scheme.
  • UON was one of only nine universities nationwide to be awarded funding under the Discovery Indigenous scheme for Professor Dennis Foley’s project which will provide Australia’s first assessment of Aboriginal economic impact.
  • $13.5m in National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) funding was secured for 21 projects and eight fellowships.

Strategic performance

The Research and Innovation Plan objectives outlined in the NeW Directions Strategic Plan were:

Innovation and research excellence

UON’s global reputation is built on areas of disciplinary strength including science and engineering, health and medicine, and energy and resources. Fields of emerging excellence include applied mathematics, social work, creative industries, earth sciences and nutrition and dietetics.

The exceptional quality and breadth of research at UON was recognised in 2015 with our continued success in the ARC and NHMRC major grant rounds. Our new generation of researchers received recognition for their work including Dr Kirsty Pringle, School of Biomedical Sciences and Pharmacy, who was awarded a highly prestigious ARC Future Fellowship, worth more than $690,000, for her research investigating the mechanism underlying successful development of the placenta.

Four early career researchers received more than $1.3m in funding under the ARC’s DECRA scheme: Dr Elizabeth Roberts-Pedersen, School of Humanities and Social Science, Dr James Hambleton, School of Engineering (Civil Engineering), Dr David Farrugia, School of Humanities and Social Science and Dr Guo  Chen, School of Electrical Engineering and Computing.

Professor Dennis Foley, School of Humanities and Social Science, was awarded Discovery Indigenous funding and Professor Andrew Fleming, School of Electrical Engineering and Computing, was awarded LIEF funding. A further 15 UON research projects received funding under the ARC Discovery Projects scheme.


UON’s outstanding educators were successful in being awarded learning and teaching research grants  from the Office for Learning and Teaching (OLT), the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE) and the Leslie Family Foundation.

Four OLT Innovation and Development Grants totalling $624,000 were awarded to support research, development and innovation related to the enhancement of learning and teaching.

Professor Penny Jane Burke was awarded $80,660 from the Leslie Family Foundation - a collaboration between the Centre of Excellence for Equity in Higher Education (CEEHE), the Wollotuka Institute and the Gomeroi Gaaynggal Centre - for the research project, Wiser Women: Educational Aspirations and Participation of Indigenous Women of Reproductive Age in Regional, Rural and Remote Communities. Professor Burke also received a grant from the NCSEHE for her research project, Belonging and Equity in Higher Education: Developing Inclusive Approaches.

Dr Anna Bennett, Pathways and Academic Learning Support Centre, received a grant from the Commonwealth Department of Education’s Higher Education Priority Pool (HEPP) valued at $205,262 as part of the Critical Interventions Framework.

Building strong partnerships with industry, business and government

In 2015, there was continued emphasis on building and enhancing relationships with key industry and business partners in areas of strategic priority through the work of our flagship research institutes - Newcastle Institute for Energy and Resources and Hunter Medical Research Institute. Their activities were complemented by the efforts of our commercialisation arm, Newcastle Innovation Ltd.

Hunter Medical Research Institute

Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI) is a partnership of UON and Hunter New England Health Local Health District and supports the Hunter’s internationally recognised health and medical researchers to produce leading research for life changing results. UON staff at HMRI continue to translate scientific advances into better clinical care, competitive commercial products and improved health care guidelines. Highlights in 2015 included:

  • $1.4m in funding from the New South Wales Office of Health and Medical Research to develop research capacity in health services research and health informatics.
  • Hosting a visit from Professor John Mattick, Director of the Garvan Institute, and his executive team to explore opportunities for ongoing collaboration with the Garvan and the $24.0m New South Wales Genomics Research Collaborative which utilises the Illumina HiSeq X Ten high speed genome sequencing system.
  • At the 2015 HMRI Awards Night, successful researchers were awarded $651,000 for 23 projects and 12 researchers received awards/prizes.
  • Hosting Professor Carl Johan Sundberg from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden to pursue collaborations with respiratory, physical activity, gastrointestinal and stroke/ neuroscience researchers.
  • A visit by the Director HMRI to Singapore with the Deputy Vice- Chancellor Research and Innovation to progress links with the National University of Singapore, the Nanyang Technological University and A* STAR, to explore formal linkages between research in cancer, bioinformatics and immunology.
  • An open day which brought in excess of 1,000 community members to engage directly with approximately 180 HMRI researchers through a series of public lectures, information booths and interactive research activities.

Newcastle Innovation

The integration of Newcastle Innovation’s (NI’s) business development and technology transfer operations to UON on 1 November paved the way for a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship to be embedded across all research fields. NI will continue its mission to maximise the potential economic, social and environmental benefits of UON’s expertise, inventions and facilities as an organisational unit rather than as a controlled entity.

In 2015, NI’s work in facilitating industry collaboration included projects with Johnson & Johnson Eyecare, Tara Energy, PepsiCo, African Explosives Limited, Chem Rite Global, South Australian Health and NUSEP Holdings.

Newcastle Institute for Energy and Resources

Newcastle Institute for Energy and Resources (NIER) brings together leading researchers in a multidisciplinary model for transformational research. Highlights in 2015 included:

  • The establishment of the ARC Industrial Transformation Research Hub for Advanced Technologies for Australian Iron Ore, which engages with mining and mining services companies to support the development of new separation and handling technologies to sustain and grow value in iron ore production and exports.
  • NIER’s Centre for Water, Climate and Land-Use was awarded an Australian Awards Fellowship: Strengthening Capacity for Innovation in Agriculture/ Fisheries and Rural Development in Vietnam via engagement with Vietnam’s Ministry for Agriculture and Rural Development.
  • $6.0m in funding from BHP Billiton to continue research undertaken by the Centre for Ironmaking Materials Research.
  • NIER selected as the New South Wales node for the Mineral Equipment, Technology and Services Industry Growth Centre.
  • Signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with China Steel, China Machinery and China Construction around collaborative activities in abatement technologies, remediation and balanced land use, and alternate use of materials. A further MOU was signed with the Indian School of Mines to develop bilateral relations and explore research collaborations.
  • Collaborative activities with industry including the establishment of a joint international research laboratory with the University of Changsha for electric transportation and intelligent distribution network control; and hosting a symposium Providing Health Care Across Diverse Regions - Challenges for the Resource Sector in partnership with Aspen Medical and featuring speakers from UON, Department of Primary Industries, Minerals Council of Australia and NSW Minerals Council.
  • NIER hosted and coordinated the NSW Energy and Resources Knowledge Hub, which is a platform through which institutions in the energy industry can capture opportunities for growth, development, collaboration and innovation across the sector and close the gap between research and business.

Enhancing our international research standing

A key outcome of the NeW Directions Research and Innovation Plan is UON’s Global Innovation Chairs (GICs).

UON’s GICs are responsible for leading the development of research and evidence-based translational practice and policy across the University and within faculties and schools. They facilitate greater engagement with international partners, drive stronger models of collaboration (through centres, hubs and clusters) and maximise the impact of UON research.

The 2015 appointments of Professor Ravi Naidu to the Global Centre for Environmental Remediation and Professor Richard Bush to the International Centre for Balanced Land Use brings the total number of GICs to four and highlights the calibre of world-leading academics contributing to UON’s ongoing research success. Their efforts are seeing UON’s research provide measurable benefits to society and receive attention on the world stage.

UON is committed to ensuring a strong pipeline of Higher Degree by Research (HDR) graduates into academia and supporting the ongoing development of early and mid-career researchers as a way to secure our future research success.

In 2015, we built on earlier successful initiatives to meet our NeW Directions goal of building HDR load and completions through the introduction of streamlined applications, strong supervision and mentoring processes, industry and business linkages and the development of comprehensive training packages. Other notable activities during the year were:

  • The progression of jointly awarded HDR programs, in particular with University Putra Malaysia and Francois Rabelais University.
  • A two-day HDR Completion Symposium to support HDR students.
  • Fifteen additional 50:50 scholarships were created for HDR candidates whose research is directly linked to a business or industry partnership.
  • An increase in the number of formally advertised scholarship rounds to increase flexibility in recruitment, attract new markets and improve student experience.

Research Advantage Program

In 2015, we focused on building leadership capability in UON researchers, and particularly Early Career Researchers (ECRs), by developing a Research Advantage Program (RAP) to competitively support researchers at all stages of their research career. The program will be launched in early 2016 and will provide researchers with:

  • A comprehensive research orientation.
  • Support and direction to connect with a suitable mentor.
  • Multidisciplinary networking opportunities.
  • High quality ongoing professional educational learning opportunities.
  • Research related skill development opportunities.

Looking forward

In 2016, UON will drive a strategic research vision and approach which will include:

  • Implementing and supporting innovative Higher Degree by Research programs and training.
  • Supporting researchers at all stages of their careers with a specific focus on lifting performance.
  • Establishing Global Impact Clusters which will provide an integrative multidisciplinary platform linking institutes, PRCs, Clusters and Centres together to engage more effectively and connect globally with strong research partners in both universities and industry.
  • Embedding a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship at UON through targeted short courses, embedded curricula and the development of a suite of innovation/acceleration programs as well as a greater realisation of research potential.