The Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia (ASSA) shares the commitment to enhance university teaching effectiveness, deliver good outcomes for graduates, and achieve equity in attainment rates across Australia, including in the regions. However, the proposed Performance-Based Funding for the Commonwealth Grant Scheme is articulated in a way which cannot guarantee these outcomes, and indeed may lead to adverse unintended consequences. The Academy recommends the Scheme be deferred until extensive consultation with all stakeholders has been completed, and rigorous analysis of it by relevant social science experts demonstrates the likely effectiveness of the Scheme, or the lack thereof. If the Scheme is implemented nevertheless, it should explicitly recognise and assess the likelihood of adverse unintended consequences of the metrics proposed, and then be implemented in a modified form founded on the proper analysis of the metrics proposed and their likely effects. The best intentions of this Scheme could be achieved through the better policy of increasing overall university funding through mechanisms that do not require significant outlay nor micromanagement of universities. Recommendations to this end are outlined in this submission.
Recommendation 1: Delay implementation of the Scheme until significant consultation with the experts, including members of this Learned Academy, has been completed—and only implement it if the evidence points clearly in the direction of effective and positive impact.
Recommendation 2: Restore all funds cut from the Research Support Program and commit to a robust framework for university funding in order to enable universities to operate effectively.
Recommendation 3: If the idea of the Performance-Funding Scheme stands up to proper expert scrutiny, it should be implemented in a form which addresses evident problems in student survey and employment outcome metrics. To achieve this, the Expert Panel should consult directly with the relevant experts for conceiving and applying accurate metrics.
Recommendation 4: Increase overall research investment by committing to clear steps towards lifting Australian R&D investment from its current low rate of 1.88% of GDP to match the OECD average of 2.4% by 2025, with the longer-term specific goal of reaching the current OECD Best Practice frontier of 3% by 2030.
Recommendation 5: Consider an income-contingent loan scheme for university-business research and development partnerships.