Critic bored. Sensationalism eases pain of researching PBRF

Playas gon’ play. The Tertiary Education Union has accused New Zealand’s universities of using dodgy (but legal) tactics to push themselves up the national rankings table.

The Performance Based Research Fund (PBRF) is a complicated system for allocating funding to universities based on the quality of their research. It also doubles as a rankings system, which is where the controversy has started. Universities are ranked based on their total performance score divided by the number of staff who count for the purposes of the rankings system. There is a “census” set for June 2012, to assess how many of these rankings-affecting staff are employed at each university.

A number of New Zealand universities, particularly Victoria University, have been accused of deliberately minimising the number of staff in that category, by, for example, giving staff fixed-term employment contracts that end just before June, and then a new contract that begins just after the June census. This way, the staff are not technically employed at the time of the census, so the university’s research score is divided by a lower number, resulting in a higher ranking.

University of Otago Vice-Chancellor Harlene Hayne was quick to stamp out any suggestion Otago might stoop to this level, describing the Uni’s employment practices as “squeaky clean”.

The Tertiary Education Commission is considering changes to NZ’s rankings system, including the possibility of dropping it altogether and and instead relying on the various international univeristy rankings systems.

Critic will be running a series of articles about the inner workings of NZ’s universities, following on from this article, in an explicit attempt to win the Aotearoa Student Press Association’s “Best Education Series” award, arguably making Critic as cynical as the alleged rankings rort.
This article first appeared in Issue 8, 2012.
Posted 5:04pm Sunday 22nd April 2012 by Callum Fredric.