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Australian government scraps controversial journal ranking

The Australian Research Council (ARC) abandoned the use of journal ranking in the government’s Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) scheme. The controversial journal ranking and the less-discussed conference ranking were adopted officially and openly by the ARC in its evaluation of research for the 2010 ERA scheme. Critics argued that there is no clear correlation between the quality of articles and the rank of the journals, yet the journal ranking was used for funding assessment and often misused by institutions to prescribe academics’ activities in terms of publishing and international collaboration.

Among a list of six recommendations to “improve” assessment methods for the 2012 ERA exercise, the ARC suggested that the prescriptive journal quality rankings of A*, A, B and C be replaced by “a journal quality profile, showing the most frequently published journals for each unit of evaluation”. The recommendation was accepted at end of May by the Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, Senator Kim Carr, for two reasons: 1) “ERA could work perfectly well without the rankings”, and 2) the existence of the ranking was “focusing ill-informed, undesirable behaviour in the management of research”.  

Despite the removal of the ranks of the journals, Carr does not rule out the “utility and importance” of the list of journals. Furthermore, there have been no additional details provided on how the descriptive “journal quality profile” will work in the new assessment scheme. 

Measuring the “quality” of research has topped the agenda of research funding organisations when an increasing share of such funding is allocated on a competitive basis. As a result, apart from institutional rankings, journal rankings, journal indexes and journal profiles have become common tools for evaluating the quality (which is often associated with the visibility) of research on a disciplinary basis (see ACA Newsletter – Education Europe, May 2011).

Australian Government - Ministry for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research