For the purposes of both internal and external reporting and related funding formulae, income and publications must fall within the definition of 'research' provided by the Australian Government Department of Education and Training.

A range of specific inclusions and exclusions must also be considered. For full details see the latest Higher Education Research Data Collection (HERDC) Specifications.

The HERDC definition of research is consistent with the OECD definition set out in the 2015 Frascati Manual:

‘Research and experimental development (R&D) comprise creative and systematic work undertaken in order to increase the stock of knowledge – including knowledge of humankind, culture and society – and to devise new applications of available knowledge.'

For an activity to be designated a research or R&D activity, it must satisfy five core criteria:

  1. Novel – aimed at producing new findings or new knowledge
  2. Creative – based on original, not obvious, concepts and hypotheses
  3. Uncertain – final outcomes are unknowable at the outset
  4. Systematic – undertaken in a planned and logical manner
  5. Transferable and/or Reproducible – lead to results that could be possibly reproduced.

This definition encompasses both pure and strategic basic research, applied research, and experimental development.

Types of research

Basic research is experimental or theoretical work undertaken primarily to acquire new knowledge of the underlying foundations of phenomena and observable facts, without any particular application or use in view.


Pure basic research is carried out for the advancement of knowledge, without seeking economic or social benefits or making an active effort to apply the results to practical problems or to transfer the results to sectors responsible for their application.


Strategic (or ‘oriented’) basic research is carried out with the expectation that it will produce a broad base of knowledge likely to form the basis of a solution to a recognised or anticipated problem or possibility.


Applied research is an original investigation undertaken in order to acquire new knowledge. It is, however, directed primarily towards a specific, practical aim or objective (including a client-driven purpose).


Experimental development is systematic work, drawing on knowledge gained from research and practical experience and producing additional knowledge, which is directed to producing new products or processes or to improving existing products or processes.

Research activities

Activities that support the conduct of research and therefore meet the above definition include:

  • the work of professional, technical, administrative, or clerical support staff directly engaged in activities essential to the conduct of research
  • the management of staff who are either directly engaged in the conduct of research or are providing professional, technical, administrative, or clerical support or assistance to those staff
  • the activities and training of Higher Degree by Research (HDR) students enrolled at the Higher Education Provider (HEP)
  • the development of HDR training and courses
  • the supervision of students enrolled at the HEP and undertaking HDR training and courses
  • research and experimental development into application software, new programming languages and new operating systems
  • prototype development and testing
  • construction and operation of a pilot plant where the primary objective is to make further improvements
  • trial production where there is full scale testing and subsequent further design and engineering
  • Phase I, II, and III clinical trials.


Activities that do not support the conduct of research must be excluded, such as:

  • scientific and technical information services
  • general purpose or routine data collection
  • standardisation and routine testing
  • feasibility studies (except into research and experimental development projects)
  • specialised routine medical care
  • literature reviews that are predominantly a summary of current knowledge in a particular research field or topic and do not include any critical assessment or report any new findings or original experimental work
  • commercial, legal, and administrative aspects of patenting, plant breeders rights, copyright, material transfer agreements, or intellectual property licensing, option, and assignment activities
  • routine computer programming, systems work, or software maintenance
  • stages of product development that do not meet the five criteria for ‘research’ or ‘R&D’, as specified above
  • pre-production development, such as non-experimental engineering of products or systems
  • market research
  • construction of fully tested prototypes for marketing purposes
  • after-sales service and trouble-shooting
  • industrial engineering and design for production purposes
  • artistic performance or expression
  • R&D financing and support services.