From the Vice-Chancellor
We are destined, it seems, to have a Research Quality Framework (RQF). This is one of the most significant components of the Federal Government's raft of proposed changes to higher education in this country, and it will have a substantial impact on research at our university.
The RQF is similar to the model used in Britain which is known as the Research Assessment Exercise, and it is intended to replace much of the present system of funding universities for research.
The current system is performance-based; that is, institutional research support is based on achieving success in various competitive research categories. This includes winning grants from the peer-reviewed Australian Research Council and the National Health and Medical Research Council, as well as other outputs such as Research Publications. This system has its flaws - but it does work.
Under the RQF, this idea of performance-based funding will be broadened and expert assessment panels utilised. There is little wrong with this in principle, but I fear the reality may well be much different.
The new system will be expensive and time consuming, especially if you have to sit on one of the many assessment panels which will be needed. Let's hope someone has evaluated whether the advantages of moving to the RQF will outweigh the cost - to date, it seems to be more an article of faith.
My hope is that any new system of research funding is based strongly around "research quality". Adelaide is a research university and the research we carry out is of high quality. Good research is also competitive, in the same way that any race is competitive, and there will certainly be winners as well as losers.
It would be easy for the RQF to be hijacked to meet a multitude of other objectives, and important as some of those might be, this exercise is about "quality research". It is not, for example, about equity, institutional ambition (which is sometimes confused with mission) or community interaction. If these elements of our work are to be funded then it should be through separate, and additional, funding allocations such as Britain's "Third Stream" funding for activities that enhance the social and economic impact of our universities.
We welcome performance-based funding for quality research, because this is of national and international importance. Also, it is what we here at the University of Adelaide have done, and continue to do, with great success. We need to prepare for this change, and ensure that every area of the University is aware of the opportunity - and the consequences.
This will likely be our single biggest challenge over the next two years.
PROFESSOR JAMES A. McWHA