18 March 2022
Ms Judi Zielke PSM
Australian Research Council
The Group of Eight (Go8) is pleased to take this opportunity to respond to the Australian Research Council’s public consultation on its Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) 2023 Preprints.
The Go8 represents Australia’s consistently leading research-intensive universities, with seven of its members ranked in the world’s top 100 universities. It undertakes 70 per cent of Australia’s university research and spends some $6.5 billion on research each year. In ERA 2018, more than 99 per cent of Go8 research was rated world-standard or above.
In 2021, the Go8 was closely involved in discussions with the ARC regarding the exclusion of pre-prints from research output lists for applications for grant funding. That condition was appropriately removed following significant concern expressed by the research community including universities and demonstrated the danger of inadequate consultation as well as the risks of not being attuned to the real issues of significance for the sector.
The ARC’s consultation on pre-prints inclusion or otherwise as outputs for assessment in ERA 2023 is welcome as an early flag of potential policy direction change. However, the inclusion of pre-prints in the ERA 2023 would be hasty and insufficiently considered given the varied and complex issues that would need to be resolved to properly accommodate such research outputs in any national research evaluation exercise.
The Go8 recommends:
- That the ARC does not proceed with the inclusion of pre-prints as research outputs in ERA 2023; and that pre-prints are not included in any future ERA round without substantial consultation with the research sector
- That the ARC maintains its policy of recognising pre-prints for the purpose of research proposals under its funding schemes, given that pre-prints in this context play a distinctly different role in the process
The threshold issue for the Go8 is that the inclusion of pre-prints in ERA is an entirely different proposition to the consideration of pre-prints for the purpose of evaluating research proposals. In funding proposals, listed pre-prints play a supportive rather than major role in the application’s largely peer-reviewed research record.
In ERA, non-peer reviewed pre-prints would play an inappropriately more significant and potentially equal role in juxtaposition to other measured outputs given that the comprehensive and mandatory approach of ERA would necessitate the reporting of all pre-prints within the reference period.
As expressed to the ARC in 2021, the Go8 strongly re-iterates the importance and value of retaining pre-prints as eligible research outputs in research funding applications under ARC funding schemes.
The consideration of including pre-prints in future rounds of ERA beyond the 2023 round should be the subject of much more discussion and agreement with the research community, given the issues which would need to be addressed and resolved. These include overcoming the fact that pre-prints are not peer-reviewed, that only some disciplines have a significant reliance on pre-prints, that a clear technical definition of pre-prints for the purpose of ERA would need to be agreed, and whether to take a selective rather than comprehensive approach to pre-prints.
The Go8 welcomes further discussion with the ARC as needed.