Practice-based Innovation and Applied Research and TAFE

Innovation is more than the linear journey starting with science, research, and hopefully ending with transformation to the commercial world.  Commercial transformation can also have its origins in practice-based innovation and applied research.  A practice-based and applied research approach to innovation operates at the interaction between the two sub-systems of innovation – acquisition and assimilation of knowledge and transformation and exploitation of knowledge.

Practice-based innovation and applied research, innovation driven by doing, using, and interacting, is as valid as science and technology-based innovation. The four components of innovation within firms and industries may cover: product (goods/services); processes of production (place based or distributive); distribution or logistic chains; organisational (why organise and how); and marketing (producer and consumer).  All these innovation types are the natural domain of TAFE, both vocational education and training and higher education, with these components responding best in a TAFE/firm/industry/student eco-system of practice-based innovation and applied research.

SMEs and TAFEs Collaborating through Applied Research for Growth

TDA is committed to practice-based innovation and applied research in the Australian tertiary education sector, as part of broader research and industry collaboration between researchers, industry, and government. Whether that is theoretical research, which leverages intellectual property for downstream commercialisation, or the acquisition and assimilation of knowledge and transformation and exploitation of knowledge in the case of TAFEs across Australia engaging with local industry and employers.

Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and family businesses are the backbone of the Australian economy creating around 7 million jobs, contributing 57 per cent of Australia’s gross domestic product, and cementing Australia’s reputation as a nation of entrepreneurs.  In terms of employment, SMEs and family businesses account for over 99.5 per cent of all employing Australian businesses. There are about 2.4 million active businesses in the Australian economy with around 99 per cent with a turnover of less than $2 million.

The Prime Minister of Australia, the Hon. Scott Morrison MP, has publicly stated: “When I was Treasurer, it used to really frustrate me, I’ve got to say, it used to trouble me that small and medium sized businesses, particularly small, were not yet taking up digital technology as fast as they could. And this was holding them back. That was the frustration.” 

Yet at the same time, SMEs and family businesses are also frustrated! As the Business SA Chief Executive Martin Haese was quoted as saying research collaboration was being inhibited. Unless his members had a very specific problem or knew exactly who to approach in a university, the search for collaboration or a PhD researcher had a “fruitless outcome”.

We encourage the Prime Minister and business associations across Australia to work in collaboration with TAFEs to engage in practice-based innovation and applied research. Cisco, Optus, and TDA have teamed up to produce a report that recommends the Australian Government investment in a one year pilot of an applied research model where TAFEs collaborate with SMEs to develop or enhance products and improve services and processes: SMEs and TAFEs Collaborating through Applied Research for Growth.

If you would like to discuss an approach to practice-based innovation and applied research please contact

The Melbourne based Mackenzie Research Institute advocates, from a technical and further education perspective on an evidence-based rationale, for the reform of tertiary education in Australia.  It seeks to create and advocate ideas that can improve tertiary education in Australia for industry and the wider community, providing greater student opportunities for access and success.

Victorian TAFEs

TAFEs know how to work with businesses of all sizes and at all stages of their development.  Applying that sound understanding to collaborative applied research problem solving and idea development is an essential TAFE pathway for successful applied research for industries, firms, SMEs and family businesses, and for TAFE students.  Victorian TAFE Institutes provide better practice Case Studies in practice-based innovation and applied research with:

  • Winemaking at Melbourne Polytechnic
  • GOTAFE Boatbuilding
  • BlendED, The Gordon TAFE Experience
  • Holmesglen Institute’s Applied Research Capability
  • Kangan Institute’s Textile and Fashion Hub
  • Chisholm Institute’s Berwick Technical Education Centre

Read more here.          

Many TAFE educators and trainers already demonstrate practice-based innovation and applied research in their own teaching practice for and with industry and community partners. A Guide for Victorian TAFE Institutes supports and guides TAFE educators and trainers for industry and community engagement, enriching the student learning and training educational journey, and developing teacher capability in practice-based innovation and applied research. Read more about this better practice here. 

Applied Research in a Global VET context

The World Federation of Colleges and Polytechnics (WFCP) is relaunching its Applied Research Affinity Group under the leadership of Tknika, the Basque Centre of Applied Research and Innovation in VET

The first meeting of the Applied Research Affinity Group will be held online in September 2020 to define the work plan for the year.

This builds off the Applied Research Affinity Group presentation at the WFCP World Congress in Melbourne Australia in October 2018, at which the Victorian TAFE Association lead a discussion on Applied Research and TAFE based on its 2018 seminal paper.

The CEO of TDA, Mr Craig Robertson, is the current WFCP Chair.

Australia’s National Centre for Vocational Education Research: Applied Research in VET

Through applied research, VET can contribute to the innovation system enabling Australian businesses to continue to compete in international markets. This important 2017 NCVER analysis explains how and in what way; a must read for independent analysis.