David Clendon
Chance to have a say on tertiary education in NZ

The Government have opened up public submissions on their proposed changes to the Performance-Based Research Fund (PBRF) for tertiary education.

The PBRF is a funding pool of around $250 million per year from the Government that goes towards tertiary education research. It is accessed by universities, ITPs, wananga and PTEs and is incentives-based, taking into account the ‘quality of researchers’, degree completions and external research income. It is also considered in accordance with government policy and the Tertiary Education Strategy.

The Government has been reviewing the current PBRF model and has now opened the review up for public feedback.

Submissions are open on the consultation document, which sets out the proposed changes the Government would like to make to the fund. Submissions are open until Friday 4th October, and can either be emailed to the review group at the Ministry of Education or submitted via an online questionnaire.

The PBRF, since its establishment in 2002, has been a burden on the tertiary education sector in New Zealand. In the past I’ve described the PBRF as a millstone around the neck of our education sector. The current fund rewards academics who do research that can get published in international journals, while punishing academics who undertake practical, grounded research that informs practice in New Zealand. Academics are left to struggle with the demand of the PBRF – to do more research, to publish or perish. At the same time, they are also experiencing increased teaching loads.

Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce, in announcing the review, said the Government was looking to “assess their effectiveness in delivering skills and innovation, producing excellent research, and encouraging the utilisation and commercialisation of research.”

In response, Tertiary Education Union (TEU) national president Lesley Francey has cautioned the Government against the further ‘commercialisation’ of research:

“It appears that the minister has lost sight of the ideal of higher education being the critic and conscience of society. This narrowing of the focus of research towards an emphasis on commercialisation could have huge implications for New Zealand society…”

This review represents a really important opportunity for the public to feed-in to tertiary education in this country and I’d encourage you all to take the time to submit. For more information on PBRF and the review, I’d suggest taking a look at comments from Jonathan Boston, one of the original architects of the PBRF, here and the work that the TEU has done on the PBRF here.

One thought on “Chance to have a say on tertiary education in NZ

  1. I have been turned down for university lecturing positions because my research was not published in the “right” journals. The problem is that I have spent my academic career in institutes that focussed on good teaching and not research. So they did not have the research facilities available, nor did they have anyone to advise me on what the “right” journals are. On the other hand, my teaching ability improved immensely, and that is my real strength. Universities do not seem to rate this in the same way as they rate research, but it is actually more important.

    It is important that university teachers have at least reasonable research skills, because they engage in research based teaching, and they also supervise theses. However, the difference between a good researcher and a great one is often the support the great researchers have from the institution, and not huge differences in innate ability.

    Teaching however in my mind is more important. I have never known any students complain that their lecturer cannot get a paper published in “nature”, or just does not understand the intricacies of proteomics. They are more likely to complain about slack or uninspiring teaching, unreliability or just not being able to explain the complex science they obviously know so well into terms that others can understand.

    So I have nothing against evaluation of research per se, and subject knowledge is important, but I think it needs to be balanced with a similar measurable evaluation of teaching ability to provide a composite score for university lecturers. The scores could al be used to stratify the job responsibilities. Truly brilliant researchers with little patience for students could be be given a primarily research-based job, with maybe some doctoral supervision of the more brilliant students, and those who have a passion for teaching could be given the undergraduate classes. Those who can do both reasonably well could supervise masters and PhD students.

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