New researchers were treated unfairly in the first round of New Zealand's national research assessment, according to an independent evaluation of the process.
The scoring system for the Performance-Based Research Fund included a weighting for peer esteem and contribution to the research environment.
This made it difficult for a researcher who had just completed a PhD to rank above the lowest R category.
The R grade has become "almost universally understood" as meaning "research inactive" and this has affected morale among staff at some universities, the evaluation report says.
The moderation panel that oversaw the ranking process has recommended that a separate category for emerging researchers be established.
Paul Callaghan, the panel chair, told a New Zealand Royal Society forum on the PBRF that there was a "distinct possibility that departments with large numbers of postdoctoral fellows are penalised".
Eligibility to take part in the PBRF should be based on a clearly defined teaching role, Professor Callaghan said. "Given the central importance of the research-teaching-nexus, I see no justification for including postdoctoral fellows or technical staff who have a research function but no direct teaching function," he said.
The Association of University Staff claimed that female researchers were also unfairly treated. Data from the Tertiary Education Commission show that men received A ratings four times as often as their female counterparts, and that 53 per cent of women received an R compared with 31 per cent of men. "It is difficult to believe that these (results) will not have an influence on promotion," Liz Poole, the AUS spokesperson, said.
The commission has released a list of "redesign issues" for the 2006 quality evaluation. But it has rejected the union's call to reconsider individual assessment.
The evaluation report also recommends keeping the individual as the unit of assessment.