End of an ERA of pain? Join the Research Advisory Group at JCU
An ERA of pain: gone, or more to come?
The Australian, 8 June 2011 on ERA journal rankings:
ARC General Sheil: But there’s more, Field Marshall [Minister for Education Carr]. We may be accused of war crimes.
Field Marshall Carr: You what?! Like what, for Christ’s sake?
ARC General Sheil: …a massive waste of time and money, sullying the reputation of countless journals, closure of others, screwing up university recruitment and promotion processes, influencing the entire culture of scholarship and publications, undermining Australian journals, changing rankings without any reasons being given, excessive secrecy over the ranking process…that sort of thing.
Most of us celebrated Education Minister Carr’s backflip on the contentious ERA journal rankings. Hints of what’s to replace it are not reassuring. ERA will continue to measure research quality by trying to measure the quality of journals. Academics all over the country have reported pressure to publish in ERA’s ‘desirable’ journals. If their work didn’t fit the research profile of those journals, they were told to not publish at all, and not publish books.
This pressure has been both direct and indirect, through workload models and PMPs. You may have experienced it in your school. Carr delivered a broadside to the Universities about it: “In light of these two factors – that ERA could work perfectly well without the rankings, and that their existence was focussing ill-informed, undesirable behaviour in the management of research – I have made the decision to remove the rankings, based on the ARC’s expert advice.”
NTEU President Jeannie Rae did a lot to kill the journal rankings system. She met with JCU NTEU members recently to discuss ERA and its problems. She wants us to form a Research Advisory Group that will let the Union know how ERA is being abused in the workplace. This is inevitable as desperately underfunded Universities play whatever ball ERA rolls at them to squeeze out more dollars.
The meeting passed the following resolution:
While we recognise and applaud Senator Carr’s (30 May 2011) announcement of changes to the ERA, including the abolition of the Journal A* to C rankings, this meeting of university staff:
- Does not have confidence that ERA will improve the quality of research being undertaken at Australian universities without further modification;
- Is concerned that the ERA will continue to be inappropriately used in performance management, redundancies, promotions, appointments and grant applications;
- Is concerned that the current ERA has the propensity to restrict research capacity by denying academic staff, including early career academics, and general staff opportunities to engage in research;
- Is concerned that the Field of Research Categorisations still do not recognise Indigenous Research as Field of Research, and that the weight to be attached to multidisciplinary research has not been given adequate consideration.
We call upon the Federal Government to continue to address identified flaws of the ERA before the commencement of the 2012 exercise, noting that this can only be done following meaningful dialogue with staff and their representatives.
The meeting believed there are more problems with the research system at JCU than just ERA. While ‘star’ researchers are encouraged, other researchers are loaded up with teaching so their own research careers stall. This is aggravated by the fact that most Government research funding doesn’t pay for the full costs of research – in the past, research dollars have been 50% subsidised by the institution – so teaching has to bear the burden. More support money has come from the Feds since 2009 but this is still a problem that needs to be fixed.
Excellent research doesn’t appear out of nowhere. It comes out of an active research culture where lots of good and worthwhile research is going on. The NTEU will continue to pressure the Federal Government to fulfil its commitment to fully fund research so this research culture can happen. We’ve also instituted a Workloads Working Party with HR at JCU to look at how workloads are measured and distributed.
Join the Advisory Group! Spread the word! Show this to a research-active colleague who is not in the union yet.