ERA 2023 Benchmarking and Rating Scale Consultation Paper – IRU submission

 Overview 

The Innovative Research Universities (IRU) welcome the opportunity to comment on the proposed options to revise the Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) 2023 rating scale. The retainment of the “world standard” terminology in both of the proposed ERA rating scale Options is welcomed. This helps provide administrative certainty to the university sector by maintaining consistency with TEQSA’s higher education standards. The progress made towards implementing the field of research 45 Indigenous studies is also encouraging. The IRU also strongly supports the intention to revise key benchmarks to ensure ERA evaluations are consistently applied in citation and peer review disciplines, and the published data remains informative to stakeholders. However, the IRU questions the rationale for changing the ERA rating scale and the efficacy of revised guidance for peer review disciplines. 

The current ERA rating scale was acknowledged in the ERA EI Review Final Report 2020-2021 to be well suited for its purposes and aligned with current international standards for research evaluation. ERA has provided a credible evaluation of the quality of our university research and has met its objectives as an evaluation framework and national stocktake of research. Over its decade of four assessments, the ERA has encouraged universities to ensure research investment is well directed to produce quality outcomes. The success of universities in achieving this is not a sufficient rationale for changing a rating scale. Although growth in lowly cited research from outside Australia may have shifted the world benchmark for citation disciplines, this does not appear to be the case for peer review disciplines 

Both Options introduce a new “world leading” standard that places great faith in citation-driven impact as a valid proxy for research excellence in citation disciplines and the capacity for reviewers in peer review disciplines to differentiate between “world leading” research units and those merely “well above world standard”. Changing the ERA rating scale carries credible risks that the ERA 2023 results will exacerbate inconsistencies and inequities between citation and peer review disciplines and be misunderstood by stakeholders as indicating a regression in research excellence due to a shift in the scale or scale mid-point. At a minimum it will require considerable stakeholder engagement to avoid these impressions. 

The IRU preference, as outlined in the IRU submission to the ERA and EI review in October 2020, is to retain the current ERA rating scale, but publish volume metric data to allow differentiation between institutions of similar ratings. The ARC may also consider revising the above world standard benchmarks exclusively in citation disciplines where there are a large number of units achieving the highest rating. This would maintain consistency over time in the ERA rating scale and “world standard”, while increasing the ability to differentiate between top performing units. 

Read the full submission here.