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Changes to Performance-Based Research Fund agreed in principle


Tertiary Education Commission adopts broader research definitions for New Zealand’s university R&D funding system

The Tertiary Education Commission has adopted changes to the research definitions in New Zealand’s Performance-Based Research Fund and has also updated the rules around evidence portfolios.

The PBRF has NZ$315 million to distribute to higher education institutions in the current budget year. Money is distributed partly according to rankings of research quality, number of degrees completed and external research income brought in.

The commission says the revised rules for quality evaluation are “more inclusive” and “honour the TEC’s obligations to uphold Te Tiriti o Waitangi and Māori-Crown partnership”. Te Tiriti o Waitangi, or the Treaty of Waitangi, was first signed in 1840 and contains principles for the protection of Māori culture.

The definitions of what constitutes research will be broader under the changed rules.

The changes, adopted on 20 June as “in-principle decisions”, follow an extensive review by a sector reference group, made up of research sector leaders, which provided a set of recommendations to the TEC. All the group’s recommendations were accepted by the TEC, a move welcomed in a statement by co-chairs Wiremu Doherty and Wendy Larner.

Under the revised framework, research will be defined as “a process of investigation or inquiry leading to new, recovered or reinterpreted knowledge or understanding which is effectively shared and capable of rigorous assessment by the appropriate experts”. The TEC says this definition includes Māori ways of knowing, being and conducting rangahau (research), such as kaupapa Māori and mātauranga Māori; and diverse Pacific ways of knowing, being and conducting research. It calls these “essential components of Aotearoa New Zealand’s distinctive research cultures”.

The in-principle decisions say that “research excellence will be assessed in terms of originality, rigour, reach and significance, with reference to the quality standards appropriate to the subject area and to the unique nature of Aotearoa New Zealand’s research cultures and needs”.

Evidence portfolios

For the research portfolios used to demonstrate individual achievements, there will be three levels of “quality”, ranging from “leading edge” down to making a “limited” impact in the field.

Respondents to the consultation process had also highlighted the burden of applying to the fund, particularly in terms of a perceived need to provide the maximum number of pieces of evidence allowed. Under the new rules, more weight will be given to quality than quantity of evidence.

Further final guidelines on evidence portfolios are expected later in 2022. Further reviews on assessment methods and the way the fund will deal with reporting of research outcomes are due over the next eight months.

The next round of the PBRF assessment is due in 2025.