Submission of the Tertiary Education Union (TEU) Te HautÅ« Kahurangi o Aotearoa
on the PBRF Sector Reference Group consultation paper “Eligibility”
30 January 2009
For further information please contact:
Tertiary Education Union
Te HautÅ« Kahurangi o Aotearoa
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.
In regards to the criteria for eligibility for performance-based funding, the TEU’s main concern is in the effect that so-called â€˜game-playing’ can have on the employment agreements and career prospects of individuals. For example, the TEU knows that some staff are being pressured to adopt lower-status tutor roles, and to agree that their teaching is â€˜under strict supervision’, as a way of making them PBRF-ineligible. This kind of action by the employer is inherently unacceptable, and has the potential to destroy a person’s academic career. It would be regrettable if the PBRF becomes a source of employment relationship problems as a result of such actions, however if this type of behaviour continues it will almost be inevitable.
Specific proposals in the consultation paper
The TEU generally supports maintaining the status quo in regards to eligibility, except perhaps for some clarification of guidelines as noted in 6.1.3. In supporting this recommendation, however, we would expect that individuals are able to challenge their inclusion or exclusion with their TEO, as the consultation paper correctly notes that there is great variance in both the range of academic titles and academic roles across the sector and therefore individuals need to be afforded the opportunity to respond to their particular classification. Otherwise there is potential for some individuals to be unfairly treated as the employer tries to manipulate the PBRF eligibility criteria to its advantage, using terms and conditions of employment in inappropriate ways.
The TEU does not support any of the other options proposed in the paper, as further changes in our view will only lead to additional pressure being placed on TEOs and staff to comply with these, with the likelihood of any negative impacts being felt most keenly by individual staff involved in research. We do feel some affinity with the proposal in the Adams Report that suggests narrowing eligibility to include only permanent staff around whom the research system pivots, however we believe that implementing such a significant change at this time to what is already a flawed system would further confuse the sector. As we previously stated, any major changes should be reserved for an agreed new model after consultation post-2012.
In responding to the proposals put forward in the consultation paper, we are particularly averse to the idea of further auditing to control eligibility-related misuses, which would only add to compliance costs, and in our view compliance costs of the PBRF are already too high. The PBRF is itself a form of audit, so having to â€˜audit the audit’ only serves to discredit the whole system. The danger is that the core activity of TEOs will eventually become â€˜auditing’, rather than what it should be – supporting quality research, teaching and learning.
The TEU therefore recommends that the eligibility criteria remain as they are in 2012, other than perhaps minor clarifications to guidelines. However any changes to guidelines must ensure that staff are more clearly advised about the eligibility criteria so that they can have more control over their inclusion in, or exclusion from, the PBRF. Importantly, such changes should also confirm an individual’s right to challenge the TEOs decision on eligibility, and to present their case for inclusion or exclusion as appropriate.
The TEU looks forward to the development of a more rational, equitable and efficient system for assessing research funding, after 2012. But, further, the TEU also acknowledges that governmental assessments of research quality in the tertiary sector inevitably have undesirable effects, and become controversial and divisive within the academic community. The challenge post-2012 is therefore a significant one, which must take due consideration of the strengths and limitations of the current model.