Submission to the Tertiary Education Commission on their consultation paper
“PBRF 2012 Quality Evaluation – managing the impact of the Canterbury earthquakes”
22 July 2011
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The Tertiary Education Union Te Hautū Kahurangi o Aotearoa (TEU) welcomes this opportunity to respond to the Tertiary Education Commission’s consultation paper “PBRF 2012 Quality Evaluation – managing the impact of the Canterbury earthquakes”. As the largest union and professional association representing staff in the tertiary education sector, we have a significant number of members who work at Canterbury TEIs that have been badly affected by events of the past 11 months. We also have members in TEIs across the country whose work has been impacted by the earthquakes because their colleagues or research projects are located in Canterbury TEIs.
The TEC consultation paper focuses on using an additional “Special Circumstances” category to address the impact of the Canterbury earthquakes on affected staff and TEIs. If it had not been for the June aftershocks, and now the likelihood of a much longer period of seismic activity, with all the disruption and stress that this brings, an additional category may have been sufficient. Given this prolonged uncertainty, our view is that the TEC needs to look again at other options, including:
Postponing this round for all TEIs and maintaining current funding until the next round;
Using the model the TEU proposed in its options paper (adding a field to signal a portfolio which has been impacted by the earthquakes; shifting the time frame of assessment for some individuals; and a pro-rating of some quality scores at an institutional level).
No doubt there are other options that could be considered.
A new category for assessing the impact of the earthquakes
If the TEC decides that the option outlined in the consultation paper will be adopted, an entirely separate category should be established. Many in the sector have expressed a lack of confidence in the application of the special circumstances category in past evaluation rounds. By separating the impact of the earthquakes from the special circumstances category and providing detailed commentary of how the new section is to be applied (including how panels will be trained and supported), the TEC clearly acknowledges it is taking the issue seriously.
As we noted in our options paper to the TEC (12th April 2011), the impact of the earthquakes on the work of individual staff will differ, as will an individual’s response to the circumstances arising from these events. Both these factors are difficult to quantify, making adjustments to the Quality Evaluation exercise difficult. Because of the variable and subjective nature of these factors, we believe the only equitable way to assess impact is by using a standardised approach for the new category. The Canterbury earthquakes are a major traumatic event that have affected and continue to affect a large number of people. If a new category is adopted, it is relatively simple we believe to identify a standard range of categories that indicate ways that an individual’s research outputs may have been affected.
Such a standardised process can:
- Ensure that unnecessary re-traumatisation is minimised. If individuals must each provide a detailed description of the impacts of the earthquakes, this also risks re-traumatising people who may already be struggling with the effects on their daily lives. The process of gathering background information should be as simple and non-intrusive as possible.
- Recognise the scale of the events that have directly affected Canterbury TEIs and the sector as a whole. If the Quality Evaluation continues as planned, whatever model is adopted needs to include baseline recognition of the initial and continuing impact of the earthquakes on the infrastructure of Canterbury TEIs – this can be achieved in part by separating the impact of the earthquakes from the special circumstances category.
Our response to the TEC’s range of options for using a special circumstances category
Defining and operationalising a Canterbury earthquakes special circumstances category
If this model were adopted, the TEU favours a simple tick box method, with a range of categories and standard descriptions that can be used to gather the necessary information. The categories could include descriptors such as:
- office/libraries/laboratory/sites for research/field work have been affected;
- the object of the study (participants, object, structure, organisation) has been destroyed or is not available; (for example, our members have told us they were not able to complete fieldwork at local early childhood centres and schools).
- data/files/other information has been destroyed/is inaccessible;
- support for EP preparation (such as confirming research outputs) was not available/was reduced; (the contribution of general staff to the preparation of evidence portfolios has also been impacted in this process – and many general staff who would normally be involved in the PBRF Quality Evaluation process are fully occupied with duties to restore facilities and services or in providing additional support to students).
- research affected because co-author/team I worked with is located in Canterbury and is affected by the earthquakes.
- personal trauma/injury/bereavement;
- family/whānau have required extensive additional support in the wake of earthquake;
- changes to domestic living situation as a consequence of the earthquakes;
All that is then required from individual researchers is to tick the boxes that are relevant to their situation.
If the TEC proceeds with this proposal or a variation of it, there needs to be an assurance that what individuals note has affected them will not require additional supporting evidence, which would add an administrative burden as well as potentially adding to the trauma individuals are already experiencing or dealing with.
The TEU does not support the proposal that TEIs “…develop internal systems that assist staff to more systematically identify levels of impact on their research.” (Paragraph 27 of the consultation document). This would add an unnecessary additional level of compliance and stress to what is already a resource-intensive process.
Consideration of amending the criteria for a C(NE) Quality category for new and emerging researchers
We are not convinced that the focus on numbers of outputs, be it for the C(NE) category, or for any other, solves any possible problem. There is likely to be a reduction in numbers of outputs across categories. Instead we propose that the assessment be based upon an individual’s (demonstrated) intent to undertake or complete research i.e. can the individual show that real efforts have been made, for example conference invites, articles sent to a journal etc.
Accepted manuscripts where the publication date of the final version of a research output has been delayed as a result of the quakes is considered a valid research output for submission
The TEU is supportive of this proposal, however further details would be needed and the descriptor expanded to include all types of research outputs.
Enhanced training for panels on the assessment of special circumstances
We are very supportive of this proposal. The training must be undertaken by trauma experts who work with individuals and communities affected by large-scale disasters. Rather than relying on testimony from individual panellists from affected Canterbury TEIs, we think it would be more helpful for panels to meet with groups of affected staff working in their field.
Use of the moderation process to ensure that special circumstances related to the Canterbury earthquakes have been appropriately considered
The use of moderation to test the effectiveness of an amended process and to ensure that overall results are as accurate and fair possible will be an important step in this Quality Evaluation. Our participating members will expect full details about the moderation process, and who will be responsible for implementing it. We support the University of Canterbury’s recommendation that a trauma expert be used as a specialist advisor to panels.
Maintaining funding levels from sources such as the PBRF is an important part of ensuring a positive future for Canterbury TEIs. Our hope is that the outcomes of this round are fair and equitable for all TEIs, but perhaps more importantly, are as simple and stress-free as possible for those individuals affected by the earthquakes. We urge the TEC therefore to seriously consider other options, such as those we noted in our introduction.
There is a broader issue that still remains unclear regarding future planning for Canterbury TEIs. Part of such planning needs to consider how some kind of certainty in funding can be achieved as part of a wider strategy of support for these TEIs, recognising that they are a fundamental part of the rebuild of the Canterbury region.
Canterbury TEIs are major employers for the region and are major contributors to quality tertiary education outcomes for domestic and international students, as well as contributing to the expansion of knowledge through research. It is not enough (as we understand the Minister for Tertiary Education has commented) to simply accept as unproblematic reductions in enrolments (and therefore funding) for these TEIs by assuming students will transfer to other New Zealand TEIs.
Taking such a ‘hands off’ approach risks loss of students (and future skilled contributors to our society and economy) to Australia and beyond, loss of national and international standing and loss of programmes that may not necessarily be picked up by other TEIs. A much more proactive approach is needed that recognises additional funding support in the short-term may be necessary to secure the future of these TEIs, to protect our national tertiary education system, and to ensure that potential students from the area are able to continue their education in their region.