Academic journal article Journal of Research Administration

The Complexities of Managing Research Projects: An Ongoing Study of Developing a Quality Framework and Measuring Perceptions of Service Quality at UniSA

Academic journal article Journal of Research Administration

The Complexities of Managing Research Projects: An Ongoing Study of Developing a Quality Framework and Measuring Perceptions of Service Quality at UniSA

Article excerpt


The Australian higher education sector has seen growing pressure for universities to be more accountable for the quality of both teaching and research. The emphasis for universities to seek greater financial support from external companies to sustain research activity results in the universities becoming 'products and services' providers. The University of South Australia (UniSA) has developed an ISO9001:2000 certified quality management system, which includes policy, systems and processes for managing research and consultancy projects. In this paper, the discussion focuses on both the implementation and application of the ISO9001:2000, as well as the role of this formal system as a key factor in improving strategies to gain a superior competitive position. The interpretation of the latter are framed by Turban, McLean and Wetherbe's (2004, p116) definition of strategic advantage. The experiences of the University of South Australia (UniSA) in collecting and analysing data from industry or client feedback via annual client surveys, and reporting and using the information to assess and modify the extent to which clients value the services are described.


Australian education continues to be faced with a number of challenges as it strives to provide the nation with advanced knowledge and innovative research and development (Australian Vice-Chancellors' Committee, 2004). As a consequence of increased challenges and pressures, universities acknowledge that they belong to a 'market' that is becoming increasingly competitive. One area of university operations that has historically been overlooked in the "quality" forum is that of research. Currently, the Government measures are performance or "outputs" based, considering only successful higher degree research student completions, staff and student research publications and staff research income. There is, however, no opportunity for the research partner/client to provide "input" about the level of satisfaction with the experience.

In order to understand better the expectations of clients and to attain a superior competitive position, the University established an ISO9001 Quality Management system. The aim of this paper is to provide an overview of an approach to improving research management by measuring and streamlining the processes that support research project activity. It is not the intent of this paper to provide the prescriptive methodology used to survey clients.

The first section defines the principles, requirements and intent of ISO, while the second section explores how ISO9001 is applied and implemented at UniSA and, importantly, reveals how a formal management system has been key in driving improvement strategies through the development of quality performance measures in relation to the services provided to its external research clients.

What is ISO?

In the pursuit of competitive advantage, it is increasingly important to identify the demands and values of current and potential clients (Menzer, Flint, Kent, 1999). As we enter the 21st Century, it is imperative that we consider the complexities of our environment such as technology, globalisation, competition, change, speed of change and complexity itself (Tetenbaum 1998) as these factors contribute to the challenges of our organisational existence. If organisations, including University Research Offices accept these complexities and challenges, we must then address them by seeing knowledge, or the attainment thereof, as a prerequisite for sustainability. How do we best address these conditions and challenges and achieve competitive advantage? How do we give rise to a sustainable future?

It would be naïve to suggest that ISO9001 is the complete answer; however, for UniSA, it does provide a formal management system and framework for identifying client requirements, setting organisational objectives, assigning responsibilities, managing human and material processes and monitoring the output of the system, including client satisfaction, with a view to continual improvement. …

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