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PBRF success

The latest Performance-Based Research Fund (PBRF) quality assessment has confirmed the University of Otago as the leading research institution in New Zealand.

The PBRF assessment was introduced by the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) in 2003 to measure the quality of research being undertaken within New Zealand's tertiary sector. Further evaluations were undertaken in 2006 and, most recently, in 2012.

The results of this latest evaluation have been welcomed by University of Otago's Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Enterprise), Professor Richard Blaikie.

“When you look across all four measures of the PBRF's quality assessment, the University of Otago has the strongest result. Within universities, the calibre of research is a defining feature of institutional quality. These results reaffirm our position as the leading research institution in New Zealand.”

Otago was the only university to be ranked in the top four in all average quality score (AQS) measures and Otago improved its 2006 performance in all of them. The University was ranked first for research quality weighted by its postgraduate roll, second for quality relative to enrolments at degree-level and higher, third for the quality of research by staff who submitted portfolios for assessment, and fourth for the measure across all academic staff.

Otago was ranked first or second in 17 subject areas, including first in four of the 10 top-ranked subject areas: law, pharmacy, philosophy and pure and applied mathematics. In addition, the Department of Psychology received the highest score (6.9) for any nominated academic unit at any institution across the country.

Of the 1,318 Otago staff who participated in the evaluation, 735 were ranked as either “A” or “B” for the quality of their research. “A”-graded staff are recognised as having high international standing in their respective fields and “B”-graded staff as enjoying high national standing. Since 2006, the number of Otago's “A” graded staff has increased from 144 to 189, and “B” graded staff has risen from 473 to 546.

Blaikie says these results reflect not only excellent performances by staff, but also the University's deep commitment to supporting staff to achieve research excellence at national and international levels. And, uniquely in New Zealand, Otago's senior academic staff have led by example with “perfect 10-out-of-10 scores”: Blaikie, Vice-Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne and Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic and International) Professor Vernon Squire have continued their work as active researchers and all gained “A” rankings. This Otago tradition of “lead from the front” is not new: former Vice-Chancellor Professor Sir David Skegg and former DVCs Professor Gareth Jones and Professor Geoff White also led with “A” rankings of their own in the earlier PBRF assessments.

Equally encouraging were the results achieved by Otago's younger, up-and-coming researchers. Of the 275 new and emerging researchers who were assessed, 53 received “B” grades and two were recognised as “A” grade, a result of which Blaikie is “very proud”.

“The PBRF process is not just about recognising current research stars, but also identifying and growing research stars of the future. These excellent results bode very well for Otago's long-term status as a leading research institution. The calibre of these early-career staff suggests many are well-placed to become our research leaders of tomorrow.”

He is also particularly proud of the staff at the University of Otago, Christchurch who have been significantly, and adversely, affected by the earthquakes that have rocked that city over recent years. In an environment that was very trying, the campus more than doubled its numbers of “A”-graded staff since 2006, to 29, reaffirming its position as the leading medical school in the country.

In monetary terms, the University of Otago has done well from the PBRF assessment, winning around 20 per cent of the total funding pool. This translates to an estimated $53 million in funding this year, potentially rising to around $60 million by 2016.

“Between Otago and the University of Auckland – which gained around 30 per cent of the pool – half of the funding pool is going to just two universities, one in the North Island and the other in the South,” says Blaikie. “This clearly shows where the research strengths lie in New Zealand universities and keeps us at the forefront of research investment in this country.”

While Blaikie is pleased with the results, he says the University cannot afford to be complacent. “The importance of attracting funding to support top quality research needs to be an ongoing priority.”

Quality evaluations make up only 60 per cent of the PBRF assessment, with research degree completions and external research income comprising 25 per cent and 15 per cent of the evaluation respectively. These two measures are assessed annually and provide an opportunity for further growth.

“However, as access to financial support for postgraduate students has been tightened, we now have to look to other means to support this important component of our activity. We will increasingly need to look to our stakeholders, business and community connections, and alumni to help us in these crucial areas.”

Otago was ranked first or second in the following subject areas:

  • Anthropology and Archaeology
  • Chemistry
  • Clinical Medicine
  • Dentistry
  • Earth Sciences
  • Education
  • Engineering and Technology
  • History, Art History and Classics
  • Law
  • Pharmacy
  • Philosophy
  • Psychology
  • Public Health
  • Pure and Applied Mathematics
  • Sociology, Gender and Social Work
  • Sport and Exercise Science
  • Theology and Religious Studies

Leading postgraduate position confirmed

The PBRF evaluation has confirmed Otago's position as New Zealand's leading postgraduate research university.

Otago was ranked first in the measure of research quality weighted by its postgraduate roll, which shows the extent to which research, teaching and learning at postgraduate-degree level and above is underpinned by the quality of research.

Access to research-informed teaching and supervision by acknowledged leaders in their fields is vital for postgraduate students: this ranking shows that Otago offers the best in the country.

Otago postgraduate students enjoy a 3:1 ratio to research-active staff and a 5:1 ratio to “A”- or “B”-rated research staff – that is, research staff whose work is nationally and/or internationally recognised.

Contextual analysis of the previous PBRF evaluations shows that Otago led the postgraduate ranking in both 2003 and 2006, and has been able to hold this position.

“The emphasis on postgraduate research is about quality,” says Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research and Enterprise Professor Richard Blaikie. “While we have grown our numbers of postgraduate students since the last evaluation, we have strongly grown our number of high quality research staff at the same time.”

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