Submission—Research Quality Framework: The impact working group

On 3 July 2006, the Australian Academy of Science made the following submission, Research Quality Framework: The impact working group, to the Australian Government Department of Education, Science and Training.

The Australian Academy of Science has consistently argued that block funding schemes should reward research quality, research outcomes (including long-term outcomes) and the impact of that research. The Academy has welcomed the commitment to distribute all the Institutional Grants Scheme (IGS) funds, and at least half of the Research Training Scheme (RTS) funds under a framework that recognises research quality especially if additional monies were made available when central agencies and the community more broadly could see the value of investment in research.

The Academy of Science, together with other pre-eminent international scientific organisations, considers that the impact of research is attested by citations of the work in scientific literature and in patent applications and by the impact, or scientific standing, of the journals in which the research is published. While this is not an exclusive definition of ‘impact’, nevertheless it is disconcerting to find that the RQF impact working group is specific in excluding any bibliometric measures of impact from its considerations. ‘Metrics’ is the remit of an alternative working group.

The Academy reminds the RQF Development Advisory Group that the funds available under the RQF were intended to provide the Higher Education sector with the critical infrastructure funds that underpin nationally competitive research grants. The Academy is concerned that in an attempt to assess ‘impact’ in terms of universities’ engagement with business, professions, governments and regional communities (all activities that are to be applauded) then the quality of research may well be eroded if research infrastructure funds are redirected into these enterprises. Engagement with the community is core business for any university.

The RQF Development Advisory Group may be well-advised to reconsider what seems to be turning into an increasingly complex assessment exercise that invites inefficient and expensive game-playing. Some universities are already moving to appoint Deputy Vice-Chancellors (Impact). No doubt the rest will follow.

One possible cost-effective means of distributing RQF funds is to base it entirely on the value of national competitive research grants awarded to universities. The national competitive research grants reflect both the quality of the proposed research and past research (track-record) that in turn reflect quality and quantity of research training and the research environment, all of which are given rigorous assessment through peer review. That is, success in gaining national research competitive grants is an appropriate proxy and surrogate for research quality.

The Executive Committee of the Council of the Academy of Science reaffirmed at a meeting on 28 June 2006 the Academy’s commitment to support block funding schemes that reward research quality. Research groups should be required to attain a threshold level of quality in order to attain eligibility for assessment for (bonus points) for ‘impact’.

Philip W. Kuchel
Secretary (Science Policy).

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