PBRF submission on "Managing nominated research outputs"

Posted By TEU on Aug 14, 2009 |


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

on the PBRF Sector Reference Group consultation paper ““Managing nominated research outputs

14 August 2009

For further information please contact:

Jo Scott

Policy Analyst

Tertiary Education Union

Te HautūKahurangi o Aotearoa

Managing nominated research outputs

The New Zealand Tertiary Education Union (TEU) Te HautūKahurangi o Aotearoa is the largest tertiary sector union in this country.”  Our membership currently sits at approximately 11,500 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.

Feedback on the discussion questions

The SRG’s discussion paper highlights the administrative nightmare that the NRO process has been – for the TEC, panellists, TEOs and staff.”  It seems also that TEC under-estimated the level of administrative support required to ensure smooth running of the process, and certainly the TEU is supportive of making necessary changes that may simplify and streamline the process for the next assessment round.

The discussion paper provides a complex matrix to present options for addressing the current problems in this system.”  Each option appears to have advantages and disadvantages, and at this point we feel unable to definitively state which (if any) would be the ideal solution.”  Our comments therefore are based on the consistent message we have presented in our submissions so far – that is, change to the current system should wherever possible be minimal, with a complete review taking place post-2012.”  In the case of the NRO process, our view is that any changes made must reduce the administrative burden on TEOs and their staff, whilst also simplifying the process for panellists.

Of the options presented, TEU sees problems with each of them, for example, the proposal to allow ‘accepted manuscripts’ to be submitted.”  Whilst this option seems to be a pragmatic short-cut through some of the copyright issues associated with academic publications, it is likely to lead to further demands on staff to gather the necessary information.”  Some staff may not have kept these manuscripts following publication of the paper.”  Some publishers of peer-reviewed papers may not provide a pre-publication version of the work.”  It is also unclear in the proposed options how TEC intends handling books or similar items that are not accessible on-line.

Any new/revised system should fulfil these elements:

  • Minimal administrative requirements on staff of TEOs (both academic and general staff); currently the system places an administrative burden on staff which impacts on the time able to be spent on core activities, such as teaching and research.
  • Timeliness of necessary information for panellists, and minimisation of any need for panellists to undertake their own searches for documents, journals and other evidence. ” TEU members have previously expressed concern to the union about the adequacy of the time spent reviewing each EP (we estimate a few minutes for each portfolio).”  The discussion paper notes that in the previous evaluation, some panellists had to spend considerable amounts of time searching for NROs or waiting for these to be delivered.”  This suggests that even less time may have been spent reviewing EPs, which casts some doubt on the robustness of this process.
  • Costs associated with the verification process to be met by TEC, wherever practicable.

Recent experience has shown the TEU and its members that some TEOs seem to be intent on making the PBRF process an extremely negative one for staff.”  Institutions are already mounting pressure over the content and presentation of EPs for 2012; any extra demands on staff to produce evidence will only add to this often unwelcome form of interference.”  In our view the current NRO process only serves to exacerbate this tendency, which results in further work and in many instances stress for staff, many of whom are already experiencing overload.

Conclusion

The PBRF model has forced a change from an environment where academics are recognised as valued scholars who manage the quality of their research outputs via their own networks of peer review, to one of an internal and external audit culture which implicitly says that academics are not to be trusted to do this.”  The model also implies distrust of the ability for TEOs to support research capacity and development through their own systems of staff development and the management of research.”  As recent examples have shown, one of the perverse effects of the PBRF is that some institutions have chosen to abdicate their responsibilities in this regard, choosing instead to adopt a PBRF-style audit process that leans heavily towards a punitive approach to individual staff that are deemed to be ‘under-performing’ rather than processes that support research development and value the contributions of staff.”  In our view, this kind of outcome is the natural corollary of very bureaucratic and administratively complex models such as the PBRF, and that is clearly illustrated by the current NRO process.

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