I was interested in this piece in The Australian’s Higher Education supplement discussing a report by Frank Neri and Joan Rodgers (the full paper here) indicating that in the vast majority of economics departments in Australia – 25 out of 29 - at least half the faculty published nothing in the top 159 economic journals from 1996-2002. Indeed almost half the Departments most academics had not published anything in a much broader group of 600 journals over this period.
The four top publishing Departments were ANU, University of Melbourne, University of Tasmania and University of Western Australia. I am surprised that University of Queensland did not make this list – it has been in my view one of the better performing departments in recent years. On the other hand I was a bit surprised that Tasmania made the list.
The 14 poor publishing universities were Defence Force Academy, Uni Canberra, Edith Cowan, Flinders, James Cook, Macquarie, Monash, Newcastle, QUT, RMIT, USQ, UTS, UWS, and VUT. Some of these universities have very small economics departments with their business teaching having been turned over almost entirely to low level vocational programs in ‘marketing’ and ‘management’. This reflects an ill-considered, short-sighted trend. The so called 'management' programs in particular are often directed to those who have never had much more of a job in their life than working in MacDonalds and which are taught by instructors without management experience. The 'marketing' programs are often little more than babble - how can you teach marketing to students who lack basic microeconomics? Emphasising these programs in a business degree creates neither the basis for teaching or research excellence.
But the inclusion of Monash and my former undergraduate university, Macquarie, in the list of research non-performers requires explanation. Monash is a very large university and should have done better than this.
At the high performance end I am unconvinced of the research virtues of some of the high flier departments. In some their teaching load is 25% of the load at most universities and, on this basis (calculating research productivity as research output/available research time), their comparative performance seems, if anything, poor.
Of course in many cases evidence of poor research contributions is not a signal to punish a department with funding cuts but, on the contrary, might provide a signal to inject funding to build the department up. This injection of funding should go towards teaching and research in sound economics areas - not to administration and not to the pseudo-sciences that are being oversold as business education in most Australian universities.