06 May 2012

Minister worries about cheating at university

Following up on my earlier post about the Performance-Based Research Fund (PBRF), it is intriguing to see that the Minister responsible, Mr Joyce, has announced a review of this funding and ranking scheme. He is concerned about "gamesmanship" in the PBRF, such as the manipulation of employment arrangements to get a higher institutional quality score – though why don't we just call this "cheating"?
It's good that the dishonesty of some in the universities has been outed, but the impending review's objectives are already clear: to change the PBRF so that there is more reward and incentive in it for universities to commercialize their research. What may unfold, then, is a newly-designed, possibly more complex and time-consuming, system that universities can cheat on in new ways.
If universities are commercializing research (a good thing, when it works), then they are already getting some income that rewards that – or, at least, they stand to get some, if commercial spin-offs are still in the design stage. There's no lack of incentive. Why, then, should universities be rewarded with an augmented stream of income from the public purse for doing that? Would that not be double-dipping? Should tax-payers subsidize even more than at present the commercial arms of the universities?
In any case, Mr Joyce's comments showed a lack of understanding of the present PBRF method. If an academic "steps out of the system for a year to go and work on a commercial project somewhere, does that damage their PBRF score?" he asked. He appears to worry that commercialization is disadvantaged, as the PBRF-related priorities get in the way. But if a PBRF-eligible researcher "steps out of the system for a year" then that temporary absence can be taken into account in their assessment. It shouldn't affect the assessment of that individual.
This, coupled with his comments about reducing the size of university Councils (the governing boards), however, suggests that the government sees the future of the universities now in largely economic and commercial terms. A disdain for the humanities accompanies this, of course. But I fear that New Zealanders are mostly philistine enough not to care about that.


Post a Comment

<< Home