Will PBRF go one round too many?

Posted By TEU on May 30, 2013 |

Tertiary Update Vol 16 No 17

Victoria University academic Jonathan Boston says PBRF has mostly been successful at reaching its goals but after three rounds it is time for a fundamental review.

Jonathan Boston, one of the original architects of the PBRF scheme, said it was always meant to be reviewed after the first three rounds of funding.

“There were many reasons for this approach, not least the expectation that a fourth round using the same process would generate little further improvement in research performance but would intensify all the existing distortions.”

Jonathan Boston spoke last week to an Anglican Chaplaincy forum in Wellington on re-thinking academic accountability. He said that PBRF had been successful in its goals of creating a funding stream for research that was independent of student demand and various contestable funding, and of raising the average quality of research and building a stronger research culture.  It had also helped increase the quantum of funding available for research.

However many of its outcomes were also negative, including:

  • high transaction/compliance costs;
  • the negative and de-motivating impact of low scores on early career researchers, and on capable and hard-working researchers not awarded an ‘A’ quality category;
  • increased incentives for institutions to retain staff at ‘senior’ levels, rather than appoint new staff at earlier levels;
  • an incentive structure that in many respects works against disciplines with a significant applied/clinical/professional component, which rely on professionally-trained researchers and professionally qualified staff, and/or where there is merit in having a reasonable flow of staff between the academic and non-academic worlds;
  • various privacy issues, including the potential for the scores earned by individuals to become widely known, and possibly mis-used; and
  • the possible downgrading of research published via New Zealand-based journals and publishers.

In an article on PBRF in the Press last weekend Jonathan Boston said, ‘‘for me, the PBRF has been a very, very mixed blessing’’ and noted that some institutions have manipulated the system in ways that has caused “enormous human pain’’.

‘‘All the institutions that I know of made every effort to try and improve their performance in one or other of the likely measures,’’ Jonathan Boston said. ‘‘Two institutions between them managed to find almost 800 staff to put under strict supervision and that clearly was not the intention of that clause.’’

Jonathan Boston says a fourth Quality Evaluation round would be unwise. However he believes there is too much invested in the current system for change to be likely.

“The challenge posed by the PBRF is how to ensure it does not become all-consuming, thereby distorting and undermining the mission of tertiary institutions, damaging the character of academic research and scholarship, and generating a research treadmill that deadens the soul rather than inspiring the mind.”

Also in Tertiary Update this week:

  1. Teachers Council review means changes for teacher education
  2. Proposed new law penalises partial strikes
  3. VCs say underfunding puts universities at risk
  4. Massey fails to woo Lincoln
  5. Casualisation “the dirty little secret of Australian university expansion”

Other news

More than 50 representatives of groups the government stays charter schools will help have signed a joint statement saying they don’t want them. Group spokesperson Waikato University Professor of Maori Education Russell Bishop has recently returned from the United States where he observed the charter school experiment first hand. He described charter schools as “part of the problem, not part of the solution”.  He described the initiative as “a serious wrong turn for education” that exploited vulnerable children – media release

A website that allegedly offered essays for cheating university students has taken down its website after legal moves from New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA), the High Court was told yesterday – Stuff

It was an eminent centre of learning long before Oxford, Cambridge and Europe’s oldest university Bologna were founded. Now Northern India’s ancient Nalanda University intends to accept students for the first time in 800 years – BBC

London Mayor Boris Johnson says Oxford University should set up a college in honour of Margaret Thatcher to make up for not awarding her an honorary doctorate – BBC

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