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Does ERA 2015 present a gender equity issue for the HE sector?

PostPosted: Thu Feb 13, 2014 7:34 pm
by mgcrisp
Academic staff employed on fractional-time contracts may be disadvantaged in the ERA by the requirement for employees on less than 0.4 FTE to have published with their new university's byline within the already passed ERA reference period.

A recent article in The Australian highlights the 'churning' of academic staff that is occurring in the sector to coincide with the ERA census date (31 March). Researchers who move (poached) to a new institution by the census date have their entire publication track record counted towards their new employer's ERA submission. This is despite the fact that the work was likely supported by their previous employer. The fact that researchers take their performance with them for the ERA results in a lot of 'horse trading' (or churning) between institutions around the census date as they try to maximize their ERA outcomes. This means that high performing researchers, or often now groups of researchers, become a valuable commodity and can no doubt leverage this newly discovered value to their advantage through negotiations with potential employers.

However, as is often the case with these sorts of initiatives, the ERA guidelines are not quite as simple as this. There is actually a guideline that requires the FTE of the newly employed researcher to be greater than 0.4 FTE. If the contract is greater than 0.4 FTE (e.g. 1.0 FTE) then the researcher and all of their publication activity is automatically eligible for the ERA submission. BUT, if the contract is for less than 0.4 FTE there is an extra requirement that the researcher must show a "publication association" with their new institution, for example with a by-line that states the new institution as their affiliation. Now as the ERA is a retrospective evaluation it is highly unlikely that a new researcher employed close to the census date would have had time publish something listing the new university as their affiliation. With a less than 0.4 FTE contract and no affiliation byline with their new employer suddenly none of their performance counts for the ERA. In ERA terms this then makes full time researchers much more valuable than fractional researchers - and, therefore universities will likely employ full time researchers close to the ERA census date rather than look for fractional appointments.

So why is this inequitable? The process makes full-time staff more attractive to a university around the census date and fractional staff less attractive. So while full time researchers can personally and professionally benefit from the head-hunting, horse-trading and churning that goes on - the fractional researchers may not. The national higher education staff data collection shows that female academics make up a higher proportion of the fractional appointments in the sector than males (for research-only academics the ratio is almost 2:1). It is likely then that not only will fractional researchers suffer because of this but that female academics will be impacted in greater numbers than males.