Wednesday, March 20, 2013

ERA Verifies that Research Funding is Going to High Quality Research Groups

Yesterday I went to a presentation by the head of the Australian Research Council, Aidan Byrne. I asked him to comment on the article in the Australian that reported his thoughts that ERA results shouldn't be tied to larger amounts of funding. He said that ERA has already had significant effects without having money tied to it and the problem is that there aren't necessarily significant differences between being ranked a 3 or 4 or a 4 or 5 as scores are rounded up or down to produce the final outcomes. He said that the most valuable use of ERA is to verify that research funding is going to high quality research groups. There is a dramatic difference between the funding received by disciplines at institutions ranked 1 and 2 and those ranked 3,4, and 5 with a smaller difference between the latter three categories. Clearly the vast majority of funding is going to the groups ranked at world standard or above. It would help get this message across if ARC presented funding numbers per full-time-equivalent faculty member in each quality ranking. But they want to avoid doing productivity measures for some reason. The ARC slides I saw just show total dollars for all 5's, all 4's, and all 3's without adjusting for number of institutions or individual researchers. As there are usually fewer institutions ranked 5 this downplays the relationship between quality and funding. Also, it would make sense to then leave funding out as one of the indicators used to assess quality. And none of this information is in the ERA report. I think that would be valuable.

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