Larkins warns: ERA not so excellent

The Australian Research Council is reviewing its two research performance measures (CMM August 20)

Policy maven Frank Larkins has firm views on the older of the two, Excellence in Research for Australia.

Professor Larkins suggests while the first three ERAs rounds helped better target research and research training, its “effectiveness, credibility and impact on decision-making,” “declined markedly” in the 2018 edition.

Included in a comprehensive analysis he suggests;

* apparent improvements in research quality may be due to “more professional administrative reporting structures”

* lack of transparency about the metrics used to establish the world standard benchmarks curtails informed discussion of actual improvements in research outcomes

*  superior ranking performance of STEM disciplines over HASS may be due to different reporting methodologies. “The problem has been recognised for many years but apparently not addressed by ARC.”

* “an undesirable outcome” of the ERA exercises is universities increasing research standing in science-related disciplines, which “provide a better dividend” than HASS. “The approach may not be in the national interest of preserving breadth and strength in research programmes”

If government does insist with continuing ERA and the newer Engagement and Impact survey, Professor Larkins suggests combining them and running them once every five years.

“Accountability to government for the research investment being made is necessary, but more streamlined and less labour-intensive methodologies are available and should be implemented using the publicly available data bases and search engines with some refinements.”