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Women disadvantaged in university research

Men received “A” ratings at four times the rate of their female counterparts under the new Performance-Based Research Fund (PBRF), according to data just released to the Association of University Staff (AUS) by the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC). Only 2 percent of women received an “A” rating, compared to 8 percent of males.

A demographic analysis of the results show that women are much less likely than men to be rated as top researchers, and are over-represented in the “R” (which has been described as research-inactive) category. Just over 16 percent of women and 36 percent of men received an “A” or “B” rating, while 53 percent of women and 31 percent of men received an “R”. Women researchers received an average quality score of 1.69, whereas the average for men was 3.14 out of a possible 5.

The results replicate similar data from the United Kingdom which showed that the female researchers there are almost twice as likely as males to be designated “research-inactive”. Research activity is one of the principal criteria for promotion in universities.

AUS spokesperson Dr Liz Poole said that the release of the data confirmed previously expressed concerns that the PBRF process would discriminate against women who had, for example, taken parental leave or other breaks in duties to tend to family responsibilities. “For many women, those years which are often considered to be potentially the most productive in terms of research are those which coincide with them being out of the workforce,” she said. “Where this occurs it will significantly diminish the assessment results for women staff, and it is difficult to believe that these will not have an influence on promotion.”

Dr Poole said that in order to protect against discrimination, the PBRF should be changed to assess the research performance of groups and not look at the performance of individuals.

The demographic data also highlights similar concerns about the results for Maori and Pasifika researchers. The average quality score was 1.69 for Maori staff and 1.57 for Pasifika staff, while it was 2.58 for those designated Pakeha/European.

The analysis of data has only been made available after pressure from AUS which has, from the outset, been concerned that the individual nature of PBRF assessment would have a detrimental effect on women, Maori and Pasifika researchers. The TEC initially decided it would not release demographic data after the University of Auckland failed to provide any information about the age, ethnicity or gender of their staff participating in the PBRF exercise.


For further comment, please contact:
Dr Liz Poole
Phone: 03 479-7841 (work)
03 4811544 (home)

For background information, including the statistical report, please contact:
Rebecca Matthews
Phone: 04 915 6695 (work)
Mobile 021 490 387

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