Prior to the formation of the TEU, both AUS and ASTE had indicated guarded support for the introduction of the Performance Based Research Fund (PBRF). In the initial stages of the development of the model the two unions hoped that it might be a mechanism by which research performance and research excellence could be better recognised and rewarded.
However as the PBRF model began to operate in the sector, a number of problems associated with it emerged. The area of most concern to AUS and ASTE, and latterly to TEU, was the reporting of individual scores to institutions, with a resultant misuse of these in employment relationships.
A number of other significant issues have also emerged over time, leading to the TEU to advocate for a complete review of the funding model post-2012. The union is also re-assessing its own policy approach to the PBRF and government-led research assessment generally, as the fundamental flaws of such models become more apparent.
This policy addresses the specific issue of reporting of individual results. It should not be construed as supporting PBRF as a funding and evaluation model. Its purpose is to outline the TEU’s position on a model that our members’ are required to work with.
Any individual Quality Category ratings of researchers produced by the PBRF Quality Evaluation should not be used for any purposes other than assessment of institutional research performance and funding based on this performance; i.e., they may not be used for internal recruitment, variable salary payments or promotion processes, as selection criteria for redundancy or early retirement, or to justify the creation of teaching-only positions.
Furthermore, individual Quality Categories should only be provided to TEOs in aggregate form for the purposes of overall ratings for departments or units, and should not be released back to the institution or to an individual researcher (unless that researcher specifically requests it).
Researchers, as employees, have no choice but to complete an evidence portfolio for PBRF Quality Evaluations – refusal to do so could mean disciplinary action and/or may adversely impact on an academic’s career. Any notion therefore that an individual has ‘consented’ to the disclosure of their personal evidence portfolio quality categories to their employer is fallacious.
The disclosure of private information in the manner that the TEC has permitted contradicts the very strict guidelines that researchers themselves must adhere to when undertaking their own research and disseminating data from human subjects. Any ethics committee presented with a research proposal that included distribution of personal information without properly informed consent would no doubt reject it, and rightly so.
The practice of releasing individual quality categories to TEOs in our view breaches individual privacy and has resulted in use of this information far beyond the original intent. Given this, our position has been and continues to be that the practice of releasing individual quality categories to TEOs should cease. This practice encourages (amongst other things) unfair comparisons of individuals based solely on their individual Quality categories, a practice that is detrimental to collegiality and the ongoing development of quality research.
Additionally TEOs should not be permitted to abdicate their management and strategic responsibilities and use PBRF data as a proxy for adequate internal systems for assessing research capacity and performance. This includes requiring staff to participate in time-consuming ‘mock’ PBRF rounds, the results of which have been used punitively as performance management tools.
The TEU recognises attempts by the TEC to address the issues that have arisen as a result of the Commission’s position on releasing individual quality categories, through the publication of new guidelines around reporting of results. However we continue to hold the view that allowing TEOs access to individual information, even with safeguards in place, breaches individual rights to privacy. Our expectation is that the TEC will actively monitor the guidelines (including responding to concerns raised by the TEU) and publicly oppose any abuses in relation to the use of individual Quality Categories.
Passed by Council, June 2011
Policy review date: 3rd June 2013