Monday, September 15, 2014

The Irish Elk is not a good role model for a Higher Education sector

Professor Young said international rankings that show no Australian university in the top 100 for research citations demonstrate the need for dramatic higher education reform.”

No, international rankings in research citations demonstrate nothing.

High research citations are the result of working in important areas that lots of other people are working on. 

The most highly cited results in these important areas that lots of people are working will come from the scientists with the best toys.

We cannot afford the best toys.

I just did a bit of exploring on the internet, and in 2012 the Australian Commonwealth government spent about $850 million dollars on the Australian Research Council, which is the main funding source of curiosity-driven research in this country. In the same year, Samsung spent $42 billion dollars on research and development. There is no way you can expect Australian researchers who are interested in making conducting polymers for flat screen displays, for instance, to compete with that sort of funding. There is no point in the Australian Commonwealth funding work that is trying to compete with the work Samsung is doing, or with the funding priorities of the Max Planck Institute, or of the strategic goals of the California State University system. There are lots more foreigners than us and they have a lot more money. They can afford better toys.

We should spend our limited resources on research that is important to Australia, but less-so to the rest of the world. With things that are of value to the citizens of the Commonwealth of Australia, but that the big fish in the pond can’t be bothered with. There is no reason to suppose that the results of this work will be in topics that are flavour-of-the-decade overseas. If the funding mechanisms of public universities are doing their work properly, they won’t be.

An Australian university making the top 100 list would truly be a great tragedy.  It will mean that Australian problems are being ignored and universities working on problems relevant to our country are being starved of funding. If it ever happens, I will burn Professor Young in effigy and drown my sorrows in a whole lot of soju.


Sarah said...

I feel like you and this guy are singing the same tune:

I'm forever boggled by the metrics used to judge things across education in general, by and large they all miss the point completely.

Sarah said...
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Chris Fellows said...

Thanks for your comment, Sarah! We are certainly singing similar tunes. The key thing for me is that universities are theoretically there in the first place to carry out certain functions, but like a lot of institutions they have become caught up in perpetuating their own existence above everything else. So they end up stressing these metrics that measure research instead of teaching, although teaching is overwhelmingly why the community funds them (Prof Schank's point) and that measure research by a yardstick that is largely irrelevant to the needs of the community that funds them to do research (my point).