Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The 2013-14 CoRE Funding Round – quick facts

The 2013-14 CoRE Funding Round – quick facts
·         26 CoRE (Centre of Research Excellence) proposals to select from in the CoRE fund round 2013-2014.
·         4 current CoREs not shortlisted, therefore not funded post 2015.
·         8 CoRE proposals short listed for site visits, including 3 current CoREs
·         There are no Māori led bids shortlisted, to be funded.
·         There is no Maori on the selection panel or advisory committee, nor any individual with expertise in mātauranga Māori or Māori research methods.
·         The assessment decision and therefore decision not to fund NPM in future was merely based on the assessment of one proposal.

Nga Pae o te Maramatanga (NPM) – quick facts and stats
·         NPM currently receives $5.3 million per annum, with a total of $39.6 million over 7.5 years (2008 to 2015 inclusive). This follows a contract extension granted by TEC for 18 months in lieu of expected delays in the CoRE selection round.
·         NPM’s National Maori Post-graduate programme, MAI Te Kupenga, has over 550 students involved currently, with many more being involved since its inception.
·         In addition to the MAI TK programme NPM has provided over 670 grants and scholarships to support Māori and Indigenous students and researchers working in its field of Indigenous (Māori) Development and Advancement – this includes Post Graduate scholarships, research internships, research projects, publishing and conference support grants, research methods scholarships and Fulbright awards for international research study.
·         NPM has over 95 research projects either completed or underway – these projects include are in areas from education and healthy and prosperous families to environmental restoration and optimising and understanding the Māori economy.
·         NPMs network spans all Universities in NZ, Wananga, CRI, and national museum along with community researchers, centres and other communities and Iwi authorities.  NPM has 16 partner research entities formally signed and advising the Centre and Board on NPM direction and activities, but the network and collaborators span much further and internationally.

In 2010-11 NPM underwent a mid-term review of contract performance and contribution by TEC – changes were agreed and the Centre continued to be funded.  In 2012 the Ministry of Education undertook a review of the CoRE Fund Policy and CoREs.  Their result was to conclude that:
“The review found that the CoREs policy supports high-quality research in a tertiary context, with positive social and economic benefits to New Zealand.” (source: TEC website).
NPM updated its strategic direction and research programme plan with TECs approval following the mid-term review – to move to the next phase with greater research excellence focus on priority areas. This update was agreed with TEC and the CoRE Contract varied accordingly.

Centre of Research Excellence Fund Round and Process 2013-14

Key points on process

Peer Review?
Was it reviewed by true peers knowledgeable and experienced with research concerning Māori communities, Māori approaches and methodologies and the work of Ngā Pae?
Selection panel members not named till after shortlist notification
Royal Society was asked and then advised 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 we advised they will not be and then they were named publically on the Royal Society’s website?

Positive International/National Reviews
We received three positive international and national reviews; one at least could be described as glowing. We had little to rebut.  Were these reviews taken into account fully?

Not role of Royal Society to ‘make funding decisions’
Here is a quote from the CoRE funding round guidelines:
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 proposed
Throughout the rebid process, we 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.  We 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 we 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.

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?

Short list number – why so few? Are they a definite?
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.
See extract from Page 8, Advisory Committee guidelines for CoREs Fund 2013/14, dated October 2013.  Refer 

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

Why note 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.

Scoring criteria - to be funded by international agency!
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)

This to me totally had us out of the game - our distinct and unique research will not get international funders or national for that matter.  Was it really the right criteria to apply - whether internationally fundable by another agency. If that was the case - why fund through CoRE Fund?

Some additional points:

Performance of CoREs
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.
This was a review of current CoREs, therefore showing the performance to expected standards.  If the independent selection panel and committee recommend to support CoREs that do not achieve this we know the process was flawed!

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.  And not short listing so out no CoRE funding post 2015 is a funding decision!

Associate Professor Leonie Pihama (Te Ātiawa, Ngāti Māhanga, Ngā Māhanga ā Tairi)
Director, Te Mata Punenga o Te Kotahi, University of Waikato

Koi te mata punenga, maiangi te mata pūihoiho!

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