Nga Pae o Te Maramatanga: Issues with the Centre of Research Excellence Fund Round and Process 2013-14

Tena koutou,

This blog has been developed by Te Wharepora Hou to provide an overview of issues directly related to the TEC and Royal Society Centre of Research Excellence Fund Round and Process 2013-14.  We have brought together information from a range of sources and added some recommendations to associated Ministers.  We encourage readers to adapt this information and that from previous blogs by Professor Linda Tuhiwai Smith and to write directly to Ministers calling for intervention. 

Some Key points on The Process

Peer Review

The application by Nga Pae o Te Maramatanga was not assessed by its peers.  There were no Māori on the panel.  There were no members of the panel knowledgeable of tikanga Māori, te reo Māori or matauranga Māori.  There were no members of the panel knowledgeable of Kaupapa Māori and Māori research approaches.   There were no members of the panel who had connections to whānau, hapū, iwi or Māori organisations and broader communities who are the direct stakeholders of the work undertaken by Nga Pae o Te Maramatanga.

Panel members not named till after shortlist notification

Royal Society was asked and  they advised that Selection Panel members were not going to be named.  Panel members were then identified on Royal Society website during week commencing 3 March (shortlist notified 1 March). Why were they not named prior to this? And why were Nga Pae advised they will not be and then they were named publically on the Royal Society’s website?

Positive International/National Reviews

Nga Pae o Te Maramatanga received three positive international and national reviews; one at least could be described as glowing. There was little to rebut. It is questionable as to whether these reviews given the level of significance that they should have, particularly given the inability of the panel to assess Māori research.

The role of Royal Society 

Here is a quote from the CoRE funding round guidelines[1]:

It is not the role of the Royal Society of New Zealand to make funding decisions. Rather, their role is one of facilitation and “guardianship” of the assessment process, ensuring that the process is credible and defensible. To achieve this, staff will: organise all logistical aspects of the process;

  • assist the Chair of the CoREs Advisory Committee in determining realistic timetables for meetings and visits;
  • record decisions and collate feedback for applicants;
  • record any conflicts of interest and actions taken; and
  • forward the final recommendations to the Tertiary Education Commission.

It is possible that the TEC did not see that an opportunity had been given to the Royal Society to make what effectively amounts to a funding decision. Nor that Royal Society expected this.  However, by not shortlisting have they made a funding decision?

Secondly, perhaps they did not see that the Royal Society could make a decision of this magnitude (not to fund 4 existing CoREs) without involving the funder, namely the TEC.

No indication in 2012/13 from TEC officials that fundamental change is required

Throughout the rebid process,  Nga Pae received consistent messages from Tertiary Education Commission officials that the Minister was “generally satisfied with the CoREs” and was not seeking major changes to them.  Nga Pae o Te Maramatanga were lead to believe that the Minister was seeking greater yields of value and productivity from them rather than fundamental change. The fact that four CoREs will not be funded is a decision of extraordinary magnitude and entirely contrary to the tenor of the discussions had with TEC officials.

Was it planned to consider existing CoREs in a different way?

The CoRE guidelines state:

Recommendations to the TEC :

As part of the Government’s commitment to supporting collaborative research the CoREs Fund was increased by 10%, bringing the total annual fund to just under $35 million. The 2013/14 CoREs selection round is for operating funding only, and is a fully contestable round.

The CoREs Advisory Committee will recommend to the TEC which proposals it considers should be funded, and the level of funding to award. The TEC Board will make the final decisions and report back to Cabinet after the selection round in 2014 to seek agreement for further operating appropriations for the Centres of Research Excellence, including disinvestment decisions if relevant, prior to announcing the outcomes of the selection round to the sector.

Perhaps there was some expectation that current CoREs would be considered somewhat differently.  Or at least get short listed and their outcome included in the final decision for TEC Board ultimate decision and consultation with Cabinet regarding funding or wind down funds if any. This highlights the issue without considering context and significance of this decision – particularly for Maori and Maori research. Note that TEC has not advised CoREs not short listed, now known to have their funding cease at the end of 2015 whether there is a wind down period or any requirements.  Suggesting it is unplanned/unknown at present.

Timeframe

CoREs were advised initially and formally (to be confirmed communication and medium) from TEC that the CoRE rebid submission process would be from September 2013- March/April 2014 (EOI to full proposal submission).  A decision was then made and concern create that the timeframe then changed to 6 December 2013 for full final proposals – this changing everyone’s strategies and plans.  The reason one understood to be the Minister wishing to make an announcement in June 2014 and prior to election along with other science investments.

This reduced timeframe, took CoREs by some surprise.  Ngā Pae had and has a very busy and full contract, annual programme and thus has to deliver current contracted and planned requirements while submit a proposal under a new tight timeframe.  Did the change in timeframe adversely affect the CoREs, the process and research excellence required and expected?  Ngā Pae missed out, other CoREs did.  What is the quality of those that remain?

The timeframe also pushed the Advisory Committees meetings and decision – there was very short turn around for review and consideration of documents then discussion of these documents and recommendations prior to having to announce the short list (those for site visit).  Was there adequate time to do justice to the process, the applications and consider the right decisions for CoREs in NZ?

Some Additional Questions

  • Short list number – why are there so few applications shortlisted?

Only 8 proposals were short-listed by the Royal Society’s Advisory Committe, yet it was indicated in the guidelines that 10-12 would be short-listed.

It is noted by the Advisory Committee guidelines for CoREs Fund 2013/14, dated October 2013.

“The purpose of this meeting is to review the ~15 applications on the long list provided by the Selection Panels and to generate a short list ~10-12 proposed CoREs for the Advisory Committee to a site visit.” (pg 8)

http://www.royalsociety.org.nz/media/20131021_CoREs_AC_Guidelines.pdf

They do also suggest that only proposals demonstrating research excellence will go forward to the 3rd phase.

 “Research excellence is a first priority; applications will be considered against this criterion and only go forward in the assessment if they meet the threshold for excellence.”  (ibid: pg 2)

It must be asked how research excellence is determined when dealing with ‘new’ CoRE applications  that have not established themselves within this context.

Why did the committee not visit Current CoREs?

Given the significance of the decision not to short list current CoREs, therefore have a site visit and not fund them further, jeopardizing their future and ceasing them as CoREs, why did current CoREs not get a site visit?  This means a decision to terminate 4 CoREs was made, perhaps without consideration of the context, lost investment, potential and huge effort to build and develop the collaborations and processes to get the significant outputs and outcomes the CoREs provide.  The decision was made solely on paper, one written proposal – which was under time pressure and some false understanding of performing well and no major changes expected/wanted.

The Royal Society Advisory Committee guidelines for CoREs Fund 2013/14 state:

March Site Visits

Following the February meeting, the Advisory Committee will conduct site visits to each host institution of the short listed proposed CoREs. These site visits will allow members of the Advisory Committee to ask further questions and raise issues that are not readily addressed in the written proposal. The visits also allow the Committee to assess the suitability of the host organisation’s provision of facilities, and to observe interactions between representatives of both host and partner organisations. Each site visit is anticipated to last for approximately half a day.

This appears to recognise the significance of further questions and information to address matters not included or requested in the application/written proposal.  Thus enabling questions of performance, how issues raised in assessment are addressed or even understood to ensure the correct and robust decision.

Given these are Centres of Research Excellence for Aotearoa, Why does the Scoring criteria include the ability to be funded by an international agency?

It is noted that grading will include if the CoRE would be funded by an International funder. This grading process denies the specific nature of Nga Pae o Te Maramatanga as being a distinctive and unique CoRE that is grounded within Māori research approaches, methodologies and methods.  These are not elements that are understood fully by an assessing panel that has no experience or knowledge of Kaupapa Māori or Māori research approaches.

The Grading system is noted as follows:

Please see page 4 at: http://www.royalsociety.org.nz/media/20131209_CoREs_referee_guidelines.pdf

Grading System (Section 2; confidential)

In Section 2 of the report, please provide two grades. This section consists of radio buttons on the online portal. Note that the grades will not be made available to applicants, which is why this scale is included in “confidential” information in Section 2.

Grade A is an overall grade for the proposed research of the CoRE (the first criterion given above).

Please use the following scale:

Grade 1: Outstanding (almost certain to be funded by any international agency)

Grade 2: Excellent (very likely to be funded by any international agency)

Grade 3: Well above average (worthy of funding)

Grade 4: Average (to be funded only if money permits as contains minor flaws)

Grade 5: Below average (unlikely to be funded as contains moderate flaws)

Grade 6: Well below average (would not be funded as contains serious flaws)

Some additional points:

Performance of CoREs

A recent review of current CoREs, highlighted the performance to TEC’s standards.  TEC notes on its website:

Review of CoREs Funding

In 2012 and 2013, the Ministry of Education carried out a review of the CoREs Fund.

The review found that the CoREs policy supports high-quality research in a tertiary context, with positive social and economic benefits to New Zealand.

As a result of the review, a new performance monitoring framework is being developed by the Ministry and the TEC to show the contribution CoREs are making. The framework will provide for how the TEC will monitor each CoRE’s commitments.

More information about the review’s findings can be found at the Ministry of Education’s website.

Funding round advice

TEC also notes on their website:

Funding round : 2013/14 selection round

As part of its commitment to supporting collaborative research, the Government is holding a selection round for CoREs in 2013/14. The 2013 Budget allocation increased the fund by 10%, bringing the total amount of annual funding to just under $35 million. The CoREs funding is for operational costs and operational expenditure only.

The TEC has contracted the Royal Society of New Zealand to establish the necessary processes to provide the TEC with recommendations for funding future CoREs. The Royal Society of New Zealand provided similar support in previous CoREs selection rounds, and is recognised for its independence and understanding of research provision.

The above again highlights, as the Royal Society guidelines did, that the role of the Royal Society was to make recommendations to TEC, not funding decisions.  The non inclusion of Nga Pae o Te Maramatanga in the final round is effective a funding decision.

A note to TEC and Minister Joyce, Minister Sharples and Minister English

There is clear evidence that the process undertaken in the selection of the CoRE applications to move in to the final round and to be considered for funding has been flawed from the beginning.

Nga Pae o Te Maramatanga has not been assessed by its peers.

Other CoRE have had specialists from their disciplines and research areas on the assessment panels.  Nga Pae o Te Maramatanga did not have specialist Māori researchers, whānau, hapū, iwi or Māori research development networks on the panel.   This is sufficient to order a judical review.  However, we submit that Ministers can intervene in ways that enable these issues to be addressed.

We submit to Ministers that:

  1. Intervene and move to have the Nga Pae o Te Maramatanga decision revisited with reinstatement into the final round.
  2. Ministers provide a clear Treaty partnership model through the funding of Nga Pae o Te Maramatanga in this CoRE round to enable Māori development initiatives to continue to develop
  3. Ministers provide within the next five period of CoRE Funding an additional stable, secure financial and resourcing provision for the entrenchment of a National Māori Research Institute that is hosted collaboratively by Māori member entities and which will consolidate the work done by Nga Pae o Te Maramatanga

[1]See file ‘20131021_CoREs_SP_Guidelines’

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About Te Wharepora Hou

Te Wharepora Hou is a collective of wāhine who are mainly Tāmaki Makaurau based, but we have strong participation from wāhine based elsewhere in Aotearoa and the world. We have come together to ensure a stronger voice for wāhine and are concerned primarily with the wellbeing of whānau, hapū, iwi and all that pertains to Papatūānuku and the sustenance of our people.
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