Many of us undoubtedly breathed a sigh of relief when the halt on Australia’s national research quality valuations, Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) and the Engagement and Impact (EI), was announced. But there’s a broader awareness that with recommendations arriving from the Australian Universities Accord committee by the end of 2023, this is less of a reprieve and more of a calm before the storm.
The trend in the research sector in Australia, and in higher education more generally, is for tighter data control, more proof of value, and more robust reporting on a variety of metrics. The sector navigates a highly politicised landscape of change, and new information is often demanded from it, sometimes with a relatively short lead time before the requirements must be met. Recent examples of legislative changes to this effect include reporting under the Foreign Arrangements Scheme, or data governance obligations under the 2022 amendment to the Security of Critical Infrastructure Act.
The interim report from the Accord committee, released in July 2023, was thin on concrete information about what new reporting requirements for research may eventually look like. But it was extremely clear that they would be on their way, listing “improving the measurement of the quality and impact of Australian research by deploying advances in data science to develop a ‘light touch’ automated metrics-based research quality assessment system,” as one of its desired outcomes.
The promise of a light touch, data-driven reporting system is heady and compelling in the abstract, but savvy administrators will already know that data has to be well-governed and immaculately organised to support automated reporting. The need for flexible, orderly and above all futureproof reporting has never been stronger.
Administrators ought to view this brief reprieve in reporting obligations under ERA and EI as a golden opportunity to get institutional data organised.