Union fears research score and pay link

February 13, 2004

A New Zealand lecturers' union has called for individual scores in the country's version of the research assessment exercise to remain confidential, fearing that they will be used to determine promotion and pay rises.

The Association of University Staff (AUS) made the demand after a University of Auckland academic who succeeded in keeping his score from his employer was told he would be treated as a one-off case.

The Tertiary Education Commission (Tec) said it would make no exceptions for anyone else seeking to keep their score secret under the new Performance-Based Research Fund.

Victoria University suggested linking bonus payments to PBRF scores during pay negotiations late last year. In some universities, scores awarded to staff members as part of internal assessments to prepare for the review were already being used as "currency for promotions", said a source.

Peter Wills, an associate professor at Auckland, said that when he supplied his PBRF information, he stipulated that it could be used only to create a score that would be aggregated with others to decide "how certain research funds could be disbursed by government". He told the university that his permission would be required before any other use could be made of that information.

Roger Staples, PBRF project manager for Tec, said: "To avoid the university getting involved in litigation with him... we agreed that we would not give out his individual score. No one else that we know of submitted on the basis that the information wouldn't be returned to their institution."

He said it had always been clear that institutions would be given individual scores. "It's basic to the PBRF. It's part of improving research. Institutions can improve their performance in future assessment rounds by improving the quality of the evidence portfolios staff members submit, and they need the individual information to do that."

Tec regards the PBRF as the wrong instrument to use for staff evaluation, but union leaders fear that it presents an "obvious temptation" to do so.

Other academics have had requests for confidentiality turned down and the AUS has asked the privacy commissioner to make an urgent ruling.

Tec plans to release all individuals' assessment scores to their institutions in March, when it announces the PBRF allocation. About NZ$18 million (Pounds 6.7 million) will be distributed this year, rising to NZ$140 million by 2007. Sixty per cent will be distributed on the basis of assessments of individual-evidence portfolios.

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