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Performance-Based Research Fund to consider Covid effects


Discussion paper presents two options to recognise pandemic’s impact on research performance in New Zealand

New Zealand’s Performance-Based Research Fund will consider the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic in its assessment of researchers’ performance, according to both options presented in a consultation paper.

The two options proposed in the paper, published by the PBRF’s reference group, are: a set of concessions for extra impacts beyond those suffered by most researchers; or allowing researchers to include the pandemic under the existing relative-to-opportunity “researcher circumstances” provisions. 

The fund, which distributes NZ$315 million a year, is one of the key sources of university research funding. The quality evaluation process that determines the funding distribution has already been delayed by a year due to the pandemic and is due to take place in 2026. 

Uneven depth of impact

The paper says the effects of the pandemic have “disproportionately fallen on Māori and Pacific people and communities, women, people with caring responsibilities, people who are disabled or living with illness, people and communities living in areas of socioeconomic deprivation, and those living in the Auckland metropolitan area”.

Negative effects included facility closures, restrictions on fieldwork and collaboration, increased administrative workloads, loss of external partners and funding, and international restrictions.

Almost all of New Zealand’s researchers might be eligible to apply for special consideration due to “researcher circumstances”, the paper says. The challenge for assessment is in “recognising the uneven depth of impact and ensuring that any provision did not exacerbate existing inequities for early career researchers, parents and those with caring responsibilities, and staff with existing health issues or disabilities”.

“Impacts will have been experienced unevenly depending on geographic area, career stage, personal circumstances, research discipline…and for some staff the pandemic may have in fact created opportunities.”

Option one, the stand-alone Covid-19 provision, would allow for extra consideration due to issues such as caring responsibilities, pre-existing conditions affected by the pandemic, Covid-related illness and the psychological impacts of bereavement or stress.


The reference group says it consulted the sector before coming up with its options. A feedback survey on the paper is open until 5 May.

New Zealand’s Tertiary Education Commission has already issued “in principle” decisions on how it will recognise the impact of the pandemic in the PBRF, based on earlier consultations.

A redesign of the PBRF has been running since late 2021, with a final summary of proposed changes due by the middle of 2023, including a decision on how to handle the pandemic’s impact.