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Research fund an exam worth preparing for

18 MARCH 2004

Research fund an exam worth preparing for

If the Performance Based Research Fund is the equivalent of an exam for tertiary institutions, then Unitec New Zealand has found the exam preparation a useful experience.

Unitec is one of 22 tertiary institutions being assessed on their research outputs and ranked for the PBRF, with the results due to be released next week. President Dr John Webster said the process had been enormously beneficial for Unitec, as it had helped focus efforts and indicated areas of future development.

However, in commenting on the injunction taken out by Victoria and Auckland University to stop the release of the PBRF results, Dr Webster said their concerns were quite different to any Unitec might have.

"It is clear that Auckland and Victoria see their reputation as being driven by the outcome of the PBRF exercise. We don't, because we have a much broader conception of what a university is."

The PBRF was more relevant for New Zealand's traditional universities, he said, which were research-led institutions.

"We have a broader set of guiding parameters, with our teaching informed by research and practice - rather than being purely research-led. And our international affiliations are with new generation or dual-sector universities with a similar view."

Dr Webster said he did have a concern that the averaging of the rankings on an institutional basis or by academic grouping might disguise areas of excellence.

"The lack of benchmarking available for the emerging disciplines such as landscape architecture and osteopathy, which make up an important part of Unitec's dual-sector profile, is also a concern. But Steve Maharey has already indicated that there are likely to be modifications to the PBRF process in subsequent rounds."

Although being a dual-sector institution has meant not all Unitec's staff were included in the PBRF process, Dr Webster said all staff were involved in research or advanced professional practice, with many doing both.

"We ensure that our students are taught in a research culture so they understand the importance of pushing boundaries and looking for innovative solutions to workplace challenges. The research undertaken by Unitec staff is often of an applied nature, creating an enthusiastic environment for teaching and ensuring that students are on the cutting edge of industry."

Dr Webster said that with the recent implementation of a new structure to strengthen Unitec's dual-sector approach, the PBRF process had helped confirm that the institution was heading in the right direction.

"We are in the business of upskilling, educating people for work, in work and through work - in line with the Government's goals. That is why students choose to study here, so we are comfortable with the PBRF process, regardless of what the results are."


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