Research management

Anomalies in the Research Excellence ERA Performances of Australian Universities

Professor Emeritus Frank Larkins, School of Chemistry, The University of Melbourne

The changes in the research excellence performance of individual universities, as assessed by the Australian Research Council’s 2012, 2015 and 2018 ERA exercises, are reviewed. Some anomalies that warrant further investigation have been identified.  Many universities have significantly increased their above world standard research performance in science-related disciplines over each successive round (figure 1), but not their humanities and social sciences performance (figure 2).

Changes over time in the predominantly quantitative metric-based benchmarks used to assess science-related disciplines compared to the relatively stable peer review assessment processes for the humanities and social sciences disciplines may account for at least some of the differences. The different assessment methodologies provide a basis to question the comparative integrity of the excellence findings with the associated adverse funding consequences for some disciplines.

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Research at Australian Universities: Is Excellence Really Excellent?

Professor Emeritus Frank Larkins, School of Chemistry, The University of Melbourne

There has been an exceptional increase for science-related disciplines in the proportion of universities assessed with a research performance above world standard in the latest ARC 2018 Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) round compared with the performances in 2012 and 2015. There is a lack of transparency about the metrics used to establish the world standard benchmarks and how they have changed over time for the 22 discipline fields of research. Informed discussion as to whether research excellence in Australian universities is really improving is curtailed because the benchmarks are not available for independent appraisal. More than 80 percent of all the universities assessed in eight science-related disciplines were reported to be above world standard in 2018. No discipline was assessed at this level in 2012 and only one, Technology, achieved this level of university performance in 2015. Furthermore, there are major contrasting research excellence performance outcomes between science-related and humanities and social sciences disciplines. The excellence benchmarks for the disciplines warrant closer examination

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Academic work from a comparitive perspective

Peter James Bentley (2015)

Cross-national differences in research orientation, productivity and time use.

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The relationship between basic and applied research in universities

Peter James Bentley, Magnus Gulbrandsen, Svein Kyvik (2015)

What is the central research activity in modern universities? This paper uses a comprehensive survey among individuals from 15 countries to map differences in orientation towards basic/fundamental research, applied/practical research and a combination of the two. Despite some claims in the literature that basic research is no longer a preoccupation of universities, our findings point at a continued strong presence of basic research in universities but with large variations between countries and academic disciplines. At the individual level, most academics engage in a combination of basic and applied research, rather than specialising, with applied orientations generally more common. Academics specialising in basic research tend to receive less external funding, work in environments where applied research is less emphasised and hold weaker professional obligations to apply their knowledge to problems in society.

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Individual Differences in Faculty Research Time Allocations Across 13 Countries

Peter James Bentley and Svein Kyvik (2012)

In research universities, research time is often too scarce to satiate the wishes of all faculty and must be allocated according to guidelines and principles. We examine self-reported research hours for full-time faculty at research universities in 13 countries (Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Finland, Germany, Italy, Malaysia, Norway, UK, USA, and Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous special administrative region of China). We examine the level of variation in individual faculty research time and the factors associated with individual differences, including differences in: (a) university policy regarding the allocation of working time for research between individual faculty members, (b) individual motivation towards research, and (c) family commitments. Our results suggest that the factors associated with additional research time vary across countries, but individual motivation towards research (relative to teaching) is a significant in all countries. University policies towards research and the research status of individual faculty, are relatively weak predictors of individual research time, though stronger effects are generally found in English-speaking countries. Research hours typically decrease with age, but plateau or increase in the oldest cohorts. Family and gender are weak predictors of research time amongst full-time faculty.

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