Australia set to blaze new trail

December 8, 2006

 Australia's Government hopes that its new research quality framework will be a worldwide pioneer in the measurement of research impact.

The framework, announced late last month by Julie Bishop, the federal Education Minister, will be used to allocate more than A$600 million (£241 million) using a model that links funding to researchers' past performance.

Ms Bishop said the framework would offer the world's best practice for evaluating research quality and the impact of research. She said the model would ensure that public cash was invested in research that delivered benefits to the wider community.

She said the trials of the scheme would continue next year, with data collection in 2008 and full implementation in 2009. In doing so, Australia was setting a pioneering course in the assessment of research impact, she said.

But she failed to endorse a call from Jim Peacock, Australia's Chief Scientist, who chaired an advisory group on the methodology, for substantially increased funding to maximise the scheme's effectiveness and encourage high-quality research.

The Australian Vice-Chancellors' Committee also said extra cash was required but was pleased that the Government had offered to assist with administrative costs.

A report on the framework says that at its core will be an expert review process involving examination of the evidence of quality and impact provided by groups of researchers nominated by universities. There will be separate assessment and reporting for research quality, and impact will be measured against a five-point rating scale.

"The advisory group considers it important to allow research conducted prior to the assessment period to be included to properly assess impact,"

the report says. "Research submitted for impact may be based on outputs produced in the six years prior to the assessment period where the relationship between the impact and the quality of the underpinning research can be verified."

Brendan Nelson, the former Education Minister, originally proposed a new basis for allocating research grants and appointed Sir Gareth Roberts to chair an expert advisory group.

Sir Gareth said the rigorous expert review-based research assessment system in the UK had paid dividends in terms of the quality of research publications.

He said that in a competitive environment where institutions and academics wished to do more research than available funding could support, there would be winners and losers.

"Invariably, it is those who are likely to benefit less whose views are more voluble," Sir Gareth said. "(But) in the UK, as a result of the research assessment exercises, there have been major changes in attitude, underpinning significant moves towards more conscious and active management of the research environment and researchers."


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