ERA Does More Harm Than Good (NTEU)

Two rounds enough: ERA does more harm than good

Dear (Academic),

The invitation is out at the moment to some academic staff to take part in the third ERA round as Peer Reviewers. While I have taken part in previous rounds as a reviewer, this time I will be saying “no”. I would like to encourage you to also consider declining to take part in this exercise.

After two rounds of ERA I believe the evidence is now in that the ERA is doing more harm than good. It is driving intensified managerialism, creating invidious status hierarchies between and within disciplines, and is undermining collegiality. Potentially, it may also threaten academic freedom as managers seek to direct staff more and more where to publish and even not to publish.

Last year the NTEU Policy Unit did a good deal of work on the impact of the ERA, and it has published a detailed policy paper on the subject (available athttp://www.nteu.org.au/policy/research/era/documents ). The paper drew on a survey of 39 senior research administrators (including DVCs for Research), and several dozen academic staff in focus groups and an intensive workshop. It documents a whole series of adverse effects of the ERA process. The ERA is driving more aggressively managerialist behaviour in converting academic staff to teaching-only positions (which is sometimes a punishment for perceived poor ERA performance rather than recognition of exceptional paedagogical commitment, trying to get some staff “off the books” for ERA purposes), more aggressive performance management processes, and an increasing effort on the part of managers to concentrate research effort into safely high-status channels.

This may come at the expense of interdisciplinary and innovative research, or research with a strong dimension of community engagement, among other perverse outcomes.

The ERA also creates an invidious league table between institutions. In my own field, history, continuing jobs have been so scarce for so long that excellent people are highly dispersed throughout the sector. The ERA constructs us as competitors, but we are all colleagues, and rely on our collegiality to sustain a wide range of discipline-relevant activities.

If done conscientiously, reviewing another university’s output in a field of research is very time-consuming. I am no longer prepared to invest that time in a process that is actually making conditions in universities worse. While we don’t have any choice about submitting our work to be reviewed, no-one has to volunteer for work for free for the ARC as a reviewer.

In unity,

Andrew Bonnell
National Vice-President (Academic), NTEU

Associate Professor, History, School of HPRC, University of Queensland

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