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March 10, 2014 | by  | in News |
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Mo Money Mo Money

Changes to PBRF funding may threaten the quality of research coming out of New Zealand Universities, the Tertiary Education Union (TEU) and Academic Freedom Aotearoa have warned.

The changes were announced last Thursday by Minister for Tertiary Education Steven Joyce as part of the Government’s Tertiary Education Strategy for 2014–2019.

The Performance Based Review Fund (PBRF) assesses research quality, allocates funding based on results, and publishes information on research performance.

The Government has announced it wants to “reward tertiary-education organisations that attract external research income… and so placing a higher value on research that meets user needs.”

“The Government is considering one further proposal to increase the proportion of PBRF income allocated based on external research income (from 15 per cent to 20 per cent of the fund),” Joyce said.

The proposal has been criticised by TEU Vice-President Sandra Grey, who said some research, like asbestos health risk and river-water-quality research, was not of interest to business but was still vital.

“Users of public research are not just those people who pay for it, but everybody. Just because an external agency does not want to pay for research does not mean it is less worthwhile than other research,” Grey said.

Academic Freedom Aotearoa chairperson Professor Jack Heinemann said that he was “concerned that those who offer research funds and contract research will have their needs met at the expense of the rest of New Zealand society.”

Further changes will involve simplifying the research assessment process, rewarding institutions which recruit and develop researchers, and strengthening public reporting on research performance.

In 2012, the Government committed to investing an additional $100 million in the PBRF over four years. This will result in the fund reaching $300 million in 2016/17.  Joyce said that this investment made it especially important to “ensure we are getting the best results possible”.

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