NZ finds merit in British funding model

November 8, 2002

New Zealand is drawing up a performance-based research funding mechanism for universities and other tertiary education institutions that draws extensively on the British research assessment exercise.

Under the system, to be introduced progressively from 2004, research funds will be allocated according to the quality of research produced in institutions.

The "top-up" funding, most of which is linked to postgraduate study, is worth about NZ$120 million (£37 million). The government has promised a further NZ$20 million over the next five years.

The government has decided on a model that will include both peer review and performance indicators to assess research. The funding would be provided as a bulk grant.

Other details have yet to be finalised. Ideas under discussion include a report commissioned from Victoria University of Wellington academic Jonathan Boston.

His recommendations draw on the British and Hong Kong models with some modifications. The Boston report endorses a mix of peer review and performance indicators (such as research degree completions and external research incomes), rather than the wholly peer-assessment British model. It also says multidisciplinary rather than single-disciplinary panels should be used for assessment.

It says funding should be allocated to institutions as an untied bulk grant calculated according to a publicly disclosed formula, and the system should be indexed to inflation. There should be no attempt to incorporate national priorities into evaluation, and it advocates a higher weighting than the 50 per cent proposed for quality assessment in the formula.

Professor Boston recommends the unit of assessment be disciplinary-based, as in the British RAE, rather than based on individual academics, as has been proposed.

He has reservations about the inclusion of self-assessment by institutions, and says overseas academics should be included on assessment panels, as was the case in Hong Kong.

The report says that in determining departmental ratings, all staff eligible for assessment should be included, whether or not they have been submitted. This would minimise the "gaming" of the British RAE, where some research-inactive staff were excluded to improve departmental ratings, the report says.

It recommends a standard quality-rating scale across disciplines using a five-step scale rather than the seven-step scale used in Britain.

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