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Thesis Details
TitleAcademicsí experiences of Performance-Based Research Funding (PBRF) : governmentality and subjection
AuthorAshcroft, Craig
InstitutionUniversity of Otago
Date2006
AbstractIn 2002 New Zealandís government set out to "accelerate" the nationís "transformation into a knowledge society" (Ministry of Education, 2002a, p. 16). Underpinning the development of this so-called 'knowledge society' was a new approach in the way tertiary education was funded. This included introducing a new contestable model of research funding called Performance-Based Research Funding (PBRF). The research reported here was conducted at a critical juncture in the ongoing development and implementation of PBRF because it captures the experiences of fifteen academics as they encounter PBRF and the Quality Evaluation exercise for the first time. Their experiences of the inaugural 2003 Quality Evaluation exercise were examined using a discourse analysis approach informed by Michel Foucaultís (1926-1984) ideas of 'subjection' and 'governmentality'. 'Subjection' occurs when individuals shape their identities by responding to the multiple discourses that are available to them at any particular time and within any historical context (Foucault, 1969). 'Governmentality' refers to a particular instrument, technique or activity that guides and shapes conduct by producing a compliant human subject capable of supporting the interests and objectives of the state (Foucault, 1994a). In the case of academics this might mean conforming to PBRF policies and practices and participating in the development and transformation of a new 'knowledge society'. In this thesis I examine the potential for PBRF to reshape and redirect the nature of research and suggest that some assessment elements of the 2003 Quality Evaluation were flawed and, as a result, a number of participants in this study were now making decisions about their research that appeared contrary to their best interests. I also investigate PBRF as a field of compliance and argue that the Quality Evaluation exercise represents a technology of government that targets the activities and practices of New Zealandís research academics with the effect of manifesting a more docile and compliant academic subject. I then question PBRFís impact on the career aspirations and opportunities of academics and claim that the PBRF Quality Evaluation framework has already shifted from being a mechanism for distributing funds for research to one that identifies and rewards the most 'talented' researchers via institutional appointments and promotions. Finally, I interrogate the pursuit and practice of academic freedom and argue that as a consequence of PBRF, a number of participants in this study have positioned themselves in ways that could diminish and constrain their traditional rights to academic freedom. PBRF has the potential to locate academics within a new status-driven hierarchy of professional validation whereby the Quality Evaluation exercise will purportedly measure, evaluate and reward the most 'talented' researchers and the 'best' research. In this thesis I argue that the PBRF Quality Evaluation framework operates as a form of disciplinary power exercised as part of an international trend of intensifying audit and assessment practices in higher education. In this sense, I claim that PBRF exists as an instrument of governmentality capable of constituting a new type of academic subject by significantly shifting the way academics will have to think and conduct their professional selves in relation to their work and research.
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