Long way to go to find fair funding 1

August 18, 2006

While Claire Donovan makes a persuasive case against metrics (Opinion, August 11), this new system of measuring research quality will not differ significantly from the research assessment exercise. Over time, the RAE has already become slanted towards quantity as well as quality of publications, as institutions and individuals compete for limited funding, and there is already pressure to publish in so-called top journals.

The key issue, in my view, is not the method of measurement but the policy pursued by the British and now Australian governments to concentrate research funding in fewer universities. It does not really matter what "field-specific metrics" are used to aid panel deliberations if, in the end, only those with top grades receive substantial amounts of funding.

Defenders of the RAE, such as Sir Gareth Roberts, challenge critics to find a fairer way of distributing scarce resources. This is difficult to do, although many will remember a time when resources were spread more widely across new and old universities, when there was less emphasis on measuring quality but the quality of published work seemed higher, and when everyone seemed more relaxed and had time to think.

Both the RAE and metrics are symptoms of a deep structural and cultural malaise in universities and other institutions driven by the misguided pursuit of continuous improvement, and technical debate about the respective merits of funding models conceals this.

Max Travers
University of Tasmania

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