Aussies try to sidestep pommy 'pitfalls'

October 15, 1999

An Australian research assessment system is expected to be based on the British version, writes Julia Hinde.

An Australian version of the UK research assessment exercise could soon be on the cards as Australian academics and higher education bodies argue for a measure of quality to be included in Australian university research funding.

Since publication in June of a green paper on university research, there has been concern that the proposed system for research funding does not include a measure of the quality of research at an institution.

Instead, institutional block grants will, under the proposals, depend on research income - from industry, consultancy and national competitive grants - and PhD numbers. A measure of publications, once part of the funding equation, is no longer included.

This week, the Australian Vice-Chancellors' Committee responded to the green paper. "The formula needs to encompass quality and outcomes more fully ... there should be some specific measure of quality weighted up to 20 per cent," it said.

In a separate paper on possible quality measures, the AVCC suggested that publications be included again in the funding mechanism, with either a credible audit of publications or "a periodic evaluation of the quality and impact of selected university research publications along the lines of the British RAE".

The Australian Research Council and the Australian Academy of Science are also expected to publish papers on the issue of quality assessment.

Research commissioned by the ARC on the exercise is thought to have shown the RAE has "widespread support" in the UK, and is comparatively cheap considering the amount of money it allocates.

The ARC paper is unlikely to propose an RAE at a departmental level, but rather a system with larger subdivisions covering themes.

John White, science policy secretary at the AAS, said the academy was concerned that "there should be a test of quality of outputs of research departments".

He said: "We don't have an RAE at the moment. Something like the UK system is foreseen - but a smaller, less costly and Australian focused methodology that avoids some of the pitfalls of the UK experience.

"We certainly don't want to restrict interdisciplinarity or make people publish at the expense of other things."

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