Australian university ‘artificially inflated’ research scores

Australian Catholic University defends hiring of professorial fellows as a tool to build partnerships

September 12, 2017
Bouncy castle inflating

An Australian university has been accused of attempting to “artificially inflate” its scholarly output ahead of the latest round of the country’s research evaluation exercise.

The Australian reported that the Australian Catholic University employed at least 16 “professorial fellows” on a 0.4 full-time equivalent contract, the minimum requirement that allows international academics’ entire published output to count towards the institution’s performance in the Excellence in Research Australia framework, takes place next year.

A complaint submitted by an ACU staff member to the Australian Research Council claimed that the fellows’ “connection and engagement” with the university was “minimal”.

“This is…a serious anomaly, if not an ­element of dishonesty, in an ERA submission that seeks to artificially inflate the quality of its research output by making use of overseas scholars who are not genuinely connected to the academic life of the university,” The Australian quoted the complaint as saying.

Simon Birmingham, Australia’s education minister, described the allegations as “concerning”.

An internal review of the practice by ACU has already criticised the practice, the newspaper continued, on the grounds that if the university’s improvement is to be sustained, “it cannot be only as the result of the activities of the established elite”.

Wayne McKenna, ACU’s deputy vice-chancellor (research), declined to say how many professorial fellows had been hired.

The recruitment of overseas academics was part of the university’s “strategy of building research excellence through international partnerships and collaboration in a small number of high-quality research clusters”, he said.

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