Physiotherapy research in an academic environment: how competitive are we?
Physical therapists (Education)
Physical therapy (Study and teaching)
Therapeutics, Physiological (Study and teaching)
Physical therapy schools (Government finance)
Physical therapy schools (Services)
Physical therapy schools (Forecasts and trends)
|Publication:||Name: New Zealand Journal of Physiotherapy Publisher: New Zealand Society of Physiotherapists Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Health Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2004 New Zealand Society of Physiotherapists ISSN: 0303-7193|
|Issue:||Date: July, 2004 Source Volume: 32 Source Issue: 2|
|Topic:||Event Code: 360 Services information; 900 Government expenditures; 010 Forecasts, trends, outlooks Computer Subject: Market trend/market analysis|
|Product:||Product Code: 8043600 Physical Therapists NAICS Code: 62134 Offices of Physical, Occupational and Speech Therapists, and Audiologists SIC Code: 8049 Offices of health practitioners, not elsewhere classified|
|Geographic:||Geographic Scope: New Zealand Geographic Code: 8NEWZ New Zealand|
Last year physiotherapy educators from both Otago and Auckland
schools were invited to submit a portfolio of their research activities
from 1997-2002 to comply with the Tertiary Education Commission Te
Amorangi Matauranga Matua's Performance Based Research
Funding' (PBRF) exercise. The principal aim of PBRF is to improve
the quality of New Zealand's academic research by increasing
research funding to tertiary education providers that perform well, and
limiting it to those that do not. Note that it restricts itself to
research activities and does not extend to addressing the equally
important issue of teaching quality.
Each portfolio was reviewed by a panel of experts and graded for excellence in three domains: research outputs (four best research outputs and up-to 50 additional publications); peer esteem; and contributions to the research environment. In broad terms an 'A' grade signifies research of a world class standard; 'B' signifies very good quality research, 'C' signifies good quality research and 'R' signifies that the evidence portfolio did not meet the requirements for a 'C', even though the applicant may be research-active.
Over 8,000 researchers from 22 tertiary education organisations took part, and then each institution was evaluated and awarded a quality grade on three key components that included 1) the research portfolios (weighted 60%), 2) research degree completions (weighted 25%) and 3) the amount of external research income generated by the institution (weighted 15%). Funding was apportioned according to the quality grade achieved. It's important to note that PBRF only affects University funding for post-graduate education and the money being redistributed comes from the post-graduate budget, which up until now has not been linked to research activity. Funding allocations through PBRF (rather than the current system of funding based on the number of student enrolments) will be phased in gradually from 2004 until the scheme is fully implemented in 2007.
PBRF results were published in newspapers, assorted educational and academic bulletins and on-line at the Tertiary Education Commission Te Amorangi Matauranga Matua's web-site: www.tec.govt.nz Media interest focused on the research quality of the institutions (rather than the funding allocation based on the three performance indicators), and successful universities took the opportunity to advertise their high ranking. In terms of research quality, the five top ranking universities were, from the top, University of Auckland, University of Canterbury, Victoria University of Wellington, University of Otago and the University of Waikato. In terms of funding, Otago University grabbed the biggest cash windfall despite finishing only fourth by the quality measure.
Overall the results indicate that research performance across universities was very uneven. For example, 31.7% of all staff were assigned an 'A' or 'B' quality category with a range that extended from 47.5% for the highest ranked institution to 6.3% for the lowest ranked. Subject areas that performed best were those with well-established research cultures, such as philosophy, chemistry and psychology. Subject areas with low quality scores were the newer disciplines such as design, nursing, sport and exercise science, theatre and dance, film, television and multimedia. Because physiotherapy was not listed as a separate discipline, physiotherapy staff were invited to submit their portfolio to a review panel from a related discipline such as clinical medicine, public health, or other health studies (including rehabilitation therapies). Clinical medicine ranked 17th, public health 18th and other health studies 36th in the subject-area ranking. In all, there were 12 peer review panels responsible for the 41 subject areas.
A physiotherapy staff member was considered eligible to participate in the quality evaluation if: 1) the individual was an academic staff member (ie they were expected to make a contribution to the learning environment) and 2) the individual was expected to make a significant contribution to research activity and/or degree teaching. Each academic unit was awarded an overall quality score (from 0 to 10) based on the grades awarded to the research portfolios. A closer look at the results from both physiotherapy schools reveals some interesting facts. Low numbers of physiotherapy staff submitted portfolios, for reasons not yet apparent. The School of Physiotherapy at Otago University was given an overall quality score of 0.3, with no staff scoring an 'A' or 'B' rating, 5 staff scoring a 'C' rating, and 29 staff scoring an 'R' rating. The School of Physiotherapy at Auckland University of Technology was part of a larger academic unit, the 'Rehabilitation and Occupational Studies', which encompasses 41 staff. The overall quality score was 0.5, with no staff scoring an 'A' rating, 2 scoring a 'B' rating, 4 scoring a 'C' rating and 35 scoring an 'R' rating.
By way of some kind of comparison, University of Otago's School of Pharmacy had an overall quality score of 2.6, with 2 staff scoring an 'A', 3 staff scoring a 'B', 12 scoring a 'C' and 7 an 'R', from 24 eligible staff. The Department of Psychology at University of Otago had an overall rating of 5.3, with 10 staff rated 'A', 8 staff rated 'B', 11 rated 'C' and 3 rated 'R' from 32 staff.
These results are disappointing but perhaps not surprising. The academic focus for physiotherapy schools over the years has been to deliver a high quality, intensive teaching curriculum that incorporates at least 1,000 hours of clinical supervision per student over the four-year period. In an Editorial in the Australian Journal of Physiotherapy, Jack Crosbie and his colleagues reported on the challenges associated with the provision of an increasingly demanding under-graduate programme, an experience that resonates with educators from our own universities (Crosbie et al, 2002).
However, this aside, there is no question that for at least two reasons a more emphatic, energetic programme of research activity is required from both our physiotherapy schools. The first is that research is the academic cornerstone on which our professional future rests. In a recent article published in this journal, Mercer and Jones (2002) stressed the need for physiotherapy educators to question accepted wisdom, critique existing practices and promulgate new ideas and controversy--all of which bear the mark of a vibrant research and academic community. The second, more pragmatic reason is that both schools may lose funding under the PBRF scheme. Neither the government nor the TEC prioritise the way in which PBRF funds are invested. Universities may support academic units with a proven research track record in order to produce an elite group of researchers who go on to secure national and international external research grants and contracts, or they may decide to prop up academic units that are under-achieving. From the 2004 exercise, for Otago University the net impact of PBRF on funding was an increase of just over $1.8 million, whilst Auckland University of Technology experienced a decrease of just over $250,000. Whilst this may or may not have had a trickle down effect to the physiotherapy schools the pressure is on to perform better. A different scenario is that New Zealand may move towards a dichotomous tertiary structure of teaching universities (mostly undergraduate) and research universities (graduate). This limits the opportunity for academic discourse to thrive in the undergraduate environment. One inevitable consequence of PBRF is that research centres of excellence and specialisation will emerge; NZ is too small a country to support seven or eight main universities.
Should the profession itself be doing more? The New Zealand Society of Physiotherapy (NZSP) supports research initiatives through the Scholarship Trust Fund, although the total amount available for grants each year is less than $50,000.
Crosbie J, Gass E, Jull G, Morris M, Rivett D, Ruston S, Sheppard L, Sullivan J, Vujnovich A, Webb G and Wright T (2002) Sustainable undergraduate education and professional competency Australian Journal of Physiotherapy 48, 5-7
Mercer S and Jones DG (2002) Physiotherapists in a university environment: the challenge to the profession. NZ Journal of Physiotherapy, 30, 3, 18-21
Honorary Scientific Editor
|Gale Copyright:||Copyright 2004 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.|