Review of statistical research methods training & research support

Published 2014

Background

ANU is a research-intensive, research-led university and research is central to all ANU academic activities. World-class research in many disciplines increasingly requires advanced quantitative and statistical techniques for data analysis, the ability to handle large and small datasets and to design research questions and data collection with awareness of appropriate analytical methods from the outset. Research culture also shapes our other core objective of education provision and we need to train students in research methodologies appropriate to their educational aims.

The University has undergraduate and graduate coursework degree programs in statistics located in the ANU College of Business & Economics. Certain other degree programs provide courses in statistical methods as compulsory or elective subjects. Training courses in the use of statistical software packages are provided via University information literacy programs and within some College-based research preparatory courses. There are, however, gaps in the coverage and reach of our research training in statistical methods.

The University also has a Statistical Consulting Unit (SCU), established in 1982 to provide guidance in statistical analysis to ANU staff and student researchers who may have little or no statistical training but require support in the design of experiments, construction of surveys, graphical analysis, collection of data in observational studies, statistical modelling and the analysis of results. The unit provides occasional, targeted, short courses and offers online, self-directed courses in statistics but the bulk of its delivery is through one-to-one consulting. The administrative location of the unit was moved from the Graduate School, on its disestablishment in 2006, to the Registrar of Student Services and, more recently, into the Research Portfolio. It is centrally-funded and does not charge for its services.

The review & terms of reference

The University identified the need for effective organisational structures in its Strategic Plan, ANU by 2020, and has initiated a series of detailed reviews of structures, academic programs and service delivery to ensure they are fit for purpose. In the light of the retirement of senior staff in the SCU and of the renewal, since 2012, of the University's program of research training for HDR, the PVC Research and Research Training has initiated a review of the provision of training in statistical methods across the University, which will also encompass an analysis of the need for additional statistical consulting advice to researchers and of the most appropriate and efficient model for delivering it. The last review of these issues, including of the SCU structure and purpose, was in 1992.

The Reviewer was asked to consider:

  • the importance of individual statistical guidance and advice in the overall context of an effective high-quality research training environment
  • the most appropriate form of delivery of statistics support and research skills training for quality research outcomes as required by a research-intensive University, in the context of budgetary constraints.

To do this the Reviewer examined:

  • the University's provision of statistical methods training against the needs of the University community and relative to comparator universities
  • the efficiency and effectiveness of the University's individualised method of providing consulting support for researcher projects
  • the allocation of the services across academic areas and disciplines.

Reviewer

Professor Ian Gordon

  • Director, Statistical Consulting Centre, Department of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne.
  • Vice-President and Immediate Past President of the Victorian Branch of the Statistical Society of Australia Inc.
  • Member and an Accredited Statistician of the Statistical Society of Australia.
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