NiTRO + Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

The Measurement Game

By Jenny Wilson — As a former university research administrator, one of my favourite books is Management Fads in Higher Education: Where they come from, What they Do, Why they fail[1] by US writer Robert Birnbaum. At the same time that Australian universities were enthusiastically adopting new management practices, Birmbaum’s book was clearly documenting their failure in the US.

For me, he always seemed to accurately sum up the frustrations in academia.  On the evaluation ‘management fad’ he said:

“If we cannot measure what is valuable, we will come to value what is measurable, so that passion for measurement can distort organizational efforts by prizing and overproducing what can be measured and neglecting what cannot.”[2]

In Australia, we increasingly see the intrinsic benefits of creative research, for society, communities and individuals, being sidelined for the more easily counted dollar values and audience numbers.

Julian Meyrick observes the result of this measurement obsession:

“For the past 30 years, Australian governments have conflated the nation’s cultural creativity with its economic prosperity. This has promoted a mood of metrical madness – the measuring of anything and everything in a way that is methodologically suspect, morally insidious and not a little daft.” [3]

In this edition of NiTRO, which features a welcome by DDCA’s new Vice President, Professor Cat Hope, we focus on issues inherent in our “daft” system of evaluating research performance. As our contributors demonstrate, there is still much to be done to address the misfit between creative arts research and its values, and the government’s system of measuring and rewarding performance.

Clive Barstow (ECU) in an interview with Literature Professor Jill Durey (ECU) finds similarities in creative arts and literature research and solutions that could benefit both;

Simon Biggs (UniSA) unpacks the Impact and Engagement guidelines to pinpoint the challenge for capturing the intrinsic value of creative arts offering a glimmer of hope for the future;

Jen Webb (Canberra) and Ross Gibson (Canberra) analyse and compare different FORs and suggest reasons for ‘lacklustre’ performance of creative arts in ERA;

Larissa Hjorth (RMIT) points out how the Engagement and Impact (E&I) agenda pushes universities to support the research process itself and highlights the work of creative arts disciplines;

Craig Batty (UTS) considers the role of craft in research and whether the longstanding art v craft dichotomy should be finally resolved;

Brydie-Leigh Bartleet (Griffith) challenges creative arts researchers to take hold of the agenda and develop a more holistic way of understanding impact;

Marie Sierra (UNSW) delves into the murky world of FOR re-coding and argues the case for ambiguity;

Former (and founding) DDCA President Su Baker, reflects on the changes in tertiary arts education which have accompanied her career.

[1] Birnbaum, R. (2001). Management fads in higher education: Where they come from, what they do, why they fail. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

[2] ibid p198.

[3]  Meyrick, J (2017).Are We Counting Culture to Death? The Conversation June 2017

More from this issue

More from this issue

By Professor Jen Webb and Professor Ross Gibson — In 2017 the Deans of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences agreed to survey decision makers in creative arts disciplines about the perception that “While every other FoR has increased its average score in each of the ERA rounds … FoR19 is the only code in which the average score across the sector has decreased in each ERA round” (McKee 2018).[1]
Professor Clive Barstow interviews Professor Jill Durey — Within the broad definition of practice-led research, how has contemporary literature fared in terms of its categorisation, measurement and funding compared with the visual and performing arts? I interview Professor Jill Durey, previous head of English at ECU and now retired, and who has lived through the various incarnations of ERA.
By Professor Brydie-Leigh Bartleet — Impact is something that cuts across the lives of artists both outside and inside the academy.
By Professor Su Baker AM — Thirty years, conventionally, represents a working life, and if that is still true, then that has been mine, so far.
By Professor Marie Sierra — Now that the Federal election is over, we can likely expect the next ERA to be 2021, instead of some later year. While it’s an enormous amount of work for what some deem a “beauty pageant”, more infrequent ERA exercises mean having to manage a larger, more unwieldy data set. And it’s all about the data.
By Professor Larissa Hjorth — When NISA released their innovation report that led to the ARC developing the Engagement and Impact (E&I) framework, people were palpably nervous. Not yet another framework which already over-worked academics had to consider in their research trajectory.
By Professor Simon Biggs — How do the current criteria we use to evaluate the quality, engagement and impact of research relate to the priorities of creative arts research? What do these criteria capture and what do they miss?
By Professor Craig Batty — While the sector has a pretty broad understanding what creative practice research is – and how its outcomes align with the ARC’s definition of research (e.g., new materials, devices, processes, understandings) – there are still conflicting views about where the new knowledge resides, even from those doing the work.