Changes must be made to the Performance-based Research Fund, TEU national president Sandra Grey said today after the Ministry of Education released terms of reference for a 2019 review of the fund.
Grey also said the review needs to be extended to include the impact Educational Performance Indicators (EPIs) are having on the sector, a step the Minister responsible, Jenny Salesa, has so far refused to take.
Because staff have to focus so much time on bureaucratic processes and compliance with a complicated regulatory regime, the PBRF is forcing many researchers to spend time on auditing and accounting rather than being innovative.
“New Zealand is full of amazing researchers with exciting new ideas. But they don’t have the professional autonomy and trust to get on with their jobs,” Grey said.
“Performance-based funding of any kind always has perverse outcomes and performance funding for research is no different. One of the perverse outcomes for researchers is that they are spending large amounts of time processing their way through forms and shaping their research to fit tidily into the system, rather than doing the research itself.”
Grey also said the PBRF creates incentives for universities to favour safe, regular and predictable research. This is making the sector more risk-averse than it needs to be. Universities are making strategic decisions that support safe and easy choices that are guaranteed to deliver a return in PBRF funding.
“All researchers accept that failure is just part of the process, particularly in STEM subjects, and we must allow for this if we want great leaps in knowledge. If we respect and trust researchers’ professional autonomy, sometimes they will fail but sometimes they will astound us with new and vibrant research that could change the world. Most importantly they will spend more of their time researching than auditing and accounting.”