PBRF submission on new and emerging researchers

Posted By TEU on Jan 30, 2009 |


Submission of the Tertiary Education Union (TEU) Te Hautū Kahurangi o Aotearoa

on the PBRF Sector Reference Group consultation paper “New and emerging researchers”

30 January 2009

For further information please contact:

Jo Scott

Policy Analyst

Tertiary Education Union

Te Hautū Kahurangi o Aotearoa

New and emerging researchers

The New Zealand Tertiary Education Union (TEU) Te HautÅ« Kahurangi o Aotearoa is the largest tertiary sector union in this country.  Our membership currently sits at approximately 11,000 members, covering all types of TEOs in the sector.

Prior to the formation of the TEU on 1st January 2009, both AUS and ASTE have made submissions on a range of topics related to the PBRF.  When the PBRF was introduced, we raised a number of concerns about the model, many of which have unfortunately emerged as issues in the sector.  Our stance on the PBRF model some years on from its introduction is that minimal changes should be implemented as a result of the current review.  We have taken this position with the current funding model as we believe that post-2012 the sector should vigorously debate alternative models that could replace the PBRF, which we regard as fundamentally flawed.

For this reason the TEU holds the view that further changes to the model, other than minor adjustments (such as clarifying guidelines) would put unnecessary pressure on academic and general staff involved in research and on TEOs, would risk further undermining the data obtained so far from assessment rounds, and should therefore be rejected.

Issues – new and emerging researchers

As the Adams Report rightly points out, the PBRF has created substantial problems for the morale and the development of new and emerging researchers.  The creation of the NE category in 2003 has recognised this fact, and the C (NE) category in particular has raised the financial value of some new and emerging researchers to their TEOs.  But the problem of how to support and appropriately recognise the contribution made by NE researchers is certainly not solved by this.  Indeed the TEU believes there is a danger that a long-term adverse effect of the PBRF, if it continues to be used, could be to stunt the growth of the research workforce in New Zealand if TEOs fail to develop NE researchers in their staff profiles and over-focus on staff in ‘A’ and ‘B’ categories (which generate greater income).  As well if NE researchers themselves find the PBRF-driven environment discouraging and demoralising, in a setting where greater funding can be obtained by focusing on those at the pinnacle of their research careers, this may lead to these individuals leaving the sector for more career-affirming opportunities.

As well if some TEOs continue the practice of insisting that doctoral-level and post-doctoral researchers undergo internal mock-PBRF assessments, which are likely to result in their being told that they qualify as R (NE), (often demoralising and not reflective of the calibre of their work at this stage of their research career), this is unlikely to encourage promising researchers to remain in the tertiary sector.

The consultation paper considers a range of options to address the need to support and encourage NE researchers.  However the fundamental problem remains – that the PBRF as a model is flawed and slight modifications to the system will not eliminate this problem.

Given this, as an interim measure (until the whole system is reviewed) there may be some merit in considering extending the NE category to include A (NE) and B (NE), thus creating a distinctive path for NE researchers which recognises excellence but also acknowledges what stage in their career the individual is at.  However if such an approach was taken, it would of course create further complexity for those involved and would impact on the future reporting of statistics.

As well, the TEU does see some sense in issuing clearer guidelines for eligibility as an NE researcher, especially if this includes ensuring that staff and post-graduate students themselves have ready access to the guidelines, so that they are empowered to assess their own standing.

The consultation paper notes (pg 12) that some panels had difficulty in applying the assessment criteria for NE researchers, especially in cases where the nominated research outputs were other than those recommended in the assessment criteria.  The TEU would not support any lessening of requirements as we agree with the SRG that this could create problems for entry in a number of fields.  It could also (as the paper notes) have a flow-on effect that may negatively impact on the status and desirability of some qualifications.  However if panels have indicated difficulty in applying the criteria, then it would be sensible to examine these to decide whether further clarification is required, especially in regards to having more explicit definitions of equivalency to the standard assessment criteria.  As the paper notes, maintaining consistency in approach across all panels on this (and of course any other issues relating to assessment of EPs) will be crucial.

Conclusion

Other than the minor changes noted in the body of our submission, the TEU recommends that no substantial changes to the NE criteria and grading be made for 2012.  As we noted in our introduction, the time for substantive changes will be post-2012, when we look forward to a complete review where alternative models can be considered.

In conclusion, we further note that the long-term risks for workforce development that the PBRF has created still need to be addressed after 2012, by a complete re-design of the system.

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