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October 6, 2008 | by  | in News | [ssba]

Tertiary institutions caught “fiddling”

A recent report into the Performance Based Research Funding system (PBRF), which is used to allocate funding to New Zealand tertiary institutions, has concluded that some education providers are “fiddling the numbers” to gain more research funding.

The rankings of tertiary staff under the PBRF system are used to allocate about $230 million of research funding a year.

Independent expert Jonathan Adams, who reviewed the system for the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) said that there was “some wilful game playing” when staff were put forward for ranking.

“Institutions are quite clearly playing games with contractual definitions in order to alter the numbers being included,” Adams said.

A deputy vice-chancellor anonymously referred to in the report said that the design of the PBRF system assumed honesty. “Wilful misuse surprised some people,” the deputy vice-chancellor said.

When contacted by Salient, Neil Quigley, Victoria University’s Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research), responded: “The PBRF system has presented a number of challenges for all universities. As with any system which categorises research there are going to be a few issues with classification at the start and this has resulted in variations between different universities.”

Association of University Staff (AUS) national president Maureen Montgomery said that the current funding system will do little in the long-term for the development of a research culture at New Zealand tertiary institutions.

“Other options…need to be further explored to ensure our sector is well-placed to meet the local and global challenges of sustaining a high-quality research culture,” she said.

However, despite some issues, Adams found that the PBRF system was “effective and delivering important and appropriate results”.

TEC spokesman Andrew Bristol said that the system was “achieving good things” for New Zealand and New Zealand’s tertiary education sector.

Adams’ report will be considered by a group of government and sector representatives.

The last round of PBRF rankings saw the University of Otago overtake the University of Auckland at the top of the rankings list.

Salient suspects this was not the type of “fiddling” that was implied.

[ssba]

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