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Gould issues 'health warning' on PBRF

Media Release Date: 22 March 2004

Gould issues 'health warning' on PBRF

Crude comparisons between universities as a whole on the basis of their ratings under the Performance-Based Research Fund could be misleading and dangerous, says Waikato University Vice-Chancellor Professor Bryan Gould.

"The point of the PBRF is to inform stakeholders about the research strengths of different universities in different areas," Professor Gould says.

"Looking at average ratings across universities as a whole will tell us nothing about universities with particular strengths in, let us say, computing science or information technology. If a student wants to study biological science, for example, the information needed will be about ratings in that discipline, not a crude average across all disciplines."

Professor Gould warns that university-wide averages would give a misleading picture, in any case, by favouring universities with medical schools and penalising universities which had, for example, incorporated teacher training colleges where, historically, research had not been a priority.

"New Zealand universities have rightly argued that international comparisons between university sectors in different countries can be misleading," he says.

"We should also be aware that domestic comparisons between universities can be equally confusing and inaccurate. If the PBRF is to mean anything, we need to look beyond the headlines and identify where the real research strengths lie. Otherwise, we run the risk of treating institutions, rather than research capacity, as the important measure of account."

Professor Gould also says it's important to remember that PBRF is a backward-looking assessment and that academics just starting out in their research careers will inevitably not get a high grade even though they are highly capable. However, such junior researchers are the future stars of the knowledge economy.


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