I saw this yesterday and couldn’t help but grab some Australian data to have a look. Below I have simply plotted the project dollars awarded to each Australian university by ARC for the years 2008-2010 against each university’s allocation under the Sustainable Research Excellence (SRE) Threshold 2 component of the Research Block Grants since 2012. The reasons for choosing these data are as follows:

I have added a linear trend line and some 95% prediction intervals – nothing fancy. But that is a good looking line!

SRE Threshold 2 vs ARC projects funding

Now in the UK case, the question has been posed

If the funding allocated to universities on the basis of the REF is correlated to the amount of grant income universities already receive, what is the point of the output assessment process?

But in Australia I tend to think about it differently – yes, those institutions that have received more ARC project funding are more likely to receive significant SRE shares on the back of their ERA outcomes, but isn’t that a good thing? Doesn’t that show that ARC project funding leads to higher quality research outcomes? And doesn’t that provide a decent mechanism for accounting around $900M of public money administered through the ARC last year (not to mention a large proportion of the nearly $1B research funding allocated by the NHMRC which also falls under the ERA/SRE mechnisms).

And this comes at a relatively modest cost to government as the ARC outlined in a 2014 submission to the Senate Economic References Committee Inquiry into Australia’s Innovation System

The financial cost of ERA to government, to January 2014, has been $48.1 million. This has funded the initial trial of ERA in 2009, the full rounds of ERA in 2010 and 2012, and the preparations so far for the upcoming ERA 2015 round.

While that doesn’t account for the compliance costs to the sector, it does seem a rather cost effective verification of the ARC’s allocations of public money.

SRE Threshold 2 vs ARC Project Grant (csv)