|This thesis explores the impact of the Performance-Based Research Fund’s (PBRF) system on accounting academics’ work lives in New Zealand. The study first explores the perception of line managers (Heads of Schools/Departments) towards the PBRF experiences of accounting academics. This study then provides the viewpoints of the accounting academics themselves regarding their PBRF experiences. The PBRF was established in 2003 with an objective to encourage and reward excellent research in the tertiary education sector. To date, the PBRF has conducted four cycles of assessment in New Zealand; the latest round was in 2018. Thirty-six tertiary education organisations (TEOs) participated in the fourth PBRF round in 2018. Over NZ$1 billion worth of funds was allocated to the tertiary education sector during that 6-year funding period (TEC, 2019).
Prior studies internationally have raised concerns regarding the negative impact that performance-based research funding systems have on academic life. The studies in New Zealand have explored the impact of PBRF in the education, nursing, design, humanities and social sciences departments in universities. However, no study has been conducted on the accounting schools in New Zealand universities.
This thesis uses institutional theory to analyse the findings in this study. The findings point towards the conclusion that the coercive, mimetic, and normative forces of isomorphism are at work in New Zealand universities in response to the PBRF requirements. Universities and accounting schools believe that they have little choice but to respond to the rules imposed by the government through the PBRF. A mixed methods approach was adopted to provide an in-depth understanding of the impact of the PBRF on accounting academics’ lives in New Zealand. The study employed a sequential exploratory strategy. This strategy involved two phases: the first phase involved qualitative data collection and analysis, while the second phase involved quantitative data collection and analysis that built on the results of the first phase. The qualitative (interview) findings were used to develop the questionnaire instrument for the quantitative data collection.
The findings in this study indicate that the PBRF has caused an increase in research outputs especially in universities where that had very little research focus prior to the introduction of PBRF exercise. Research quality has also increased in terms of an increase in academic publication in A*, A and B journals. PBRF has helped increase the status and reputation of New Zealand universities and academics nationally and internationally. Academics are also more experienced in applying for external research grants and working in research teams.
However, the negative consequences of the PBRF system seem to far outweigh its benefits. There is evidence that academics are hard pressed for time to complete their tasks, leading to stress and illness. Academics are working long hours into the evenings and at weekends to complete all their tasks. Under the PBRF regime, the time allocated to academics for research is higher than for teaching. Academics have less time available to develop innovate teaching. Academics are working under immense pressure to research and publish in high-ranked journals; for those who do not, they may be asked to leave. Many academics who could not cope with the increasing demands of conducting both teaching and research tasks or who were research inactive, left academia in the earlier rounds; more plan or might be ‘coerced’ to leave. The new work environment in universities has no place for research-inactive academics. Further, academics have restricted freedom to pursue their own research interests. Staff recruitment policies in universities have been aligned to meet PBRF requirements. Potential candidates must show evidence of a good potential PBRF profile. Even HoDs are apprehensive that new and emerging researchers will be unable to cope with the research, teaching, and administrative/service expectations when they start their careers in universities. Therefore, universities are reluctant to hire new and emerging researchers because doing so may risk their university rankings. Instead, there is evidence of gaming practices. Prolific researchers are more likely to be hired to boost university scores. Research-active academics are able to negotiate reduced teaching hours. The additional teaching loads seem to be passed to teaching-only staff, a practice that has negative consequences because there are no expectations for teaching-only staff to be research productive. The hiring of teaching-only staff has multiple consequences; it restricts research-informed teaching, weakens the teaching–research nexus, and conflicts with the Education Act 1989 which suggests that teaching staff must be actively involved in research activities. Academics criticise the PBRF and suggest that, if its aim was to increase the focus on research, it has done that, but at the expense of other activities. Academics suggest that PBRF should be abolished.
This study provides important insights on the impact on accounting academics life by the PBRF regime imposed on policy makers, university senior management, and HoDs. This study, generally offers valuable information on the consequences that the PBRF has on the work life of an academic. Further, the study will benefit senior management and HoDs by providing insights that can help in their decision-making processes. While this study had a New Zealand context, managers globally at universities need to ensure that academics are supported so that they can fulfil all their academic roles. Decision makers in the university must give attention to other functions in the university such as teaching excellence, student supervision, learning support, and quality of assessment.
The main limitation of this study is that, because of the low response rate from the academics, meaningful quantitative analysis was restricted. Future research could focus on the impact that the PBRF has on teaching quality and student learning. For instance, the impact on teaching developments and innovations were perceived to be negative because of the PBRF. This area needs to be explored, because there is a perception that the PBRF has impacted negatively on teaching in that academics have a lack of time to innovate in their teaching because of research pressure and commitments. To gain more insights into the academic responses, undertaking a study that used in-depth interviews with academics at all levels would add value to the literature on the teaching experiences of academics. Furthermore, there needs to be more research on the costs and benefits of conducting the PBRF exercise. It appears there are many hidden costs, especially in terms of human costs involving the long work hours that academics are putting in to cope with their role in academia. Hidden costs that include stress, impaired well-being, and job dissatisfaction ultimately impact on the quality of teaching and student learning and experience in higher education. Such a perceived serious consequence need to be researched.