I guess it won’t surprise anyone that my post the other day on the merger or lack of merger between the Faculty of Economics and Commerce and MBS led to some controversy. That is always the way when you start comparing performance.
Now I didn’t really want to revisit that but in the comments thread, the current Associate Dean of Research at FEC, Professor Ian King — who is one of Australia’s most regarded macroeconomic researchers — took issue with this statement:
Through the merger process we learned that on any objective measure of research output our faculty out performed those of FEC (citations, journal publications and grants received per capita).
This, it should be said, was against a backdrop of some ‘conventional wisdom’ that ‘at MBS you get great teaching but no research.’ So I’ll admit to it being a touchy subject for me given that is not my perception at all.
In the comments, Ian King said the following:
If you look at the University of Melbourne’s website, and the research statistics contained therein http://www.research.unimelb.edu.au/performance/published/researchperformance you will find that the FEC has systematically out-performed the MBS in terms of refereed journal articles (weighted by number of authors) per staff member. For example, in 2008, on average, each FEC staff member produced approximately 61% more than each MBS one.
This highlights the importance of using the data-led approach to analysis, favored by the FEC, rather than the alternative approach apparently favored at the MBS. Students seeking to learn analytical techniques that peer beyond salesmanship should choose the FEC for their graduate studies.
He should know, he is in charge of the research part of FEC. Now I didn’t quote any data in my original post (it wasn’t that kind of post) but to be accused of not using a data-led approach was a surprise to me. And to infer that students should go to FEC rather than MBS for graduate studies was a stretch.
Anyhow, I went to the data and pulled all of the relevant bits from the University’s web-site. I have put it all in a convenient table from 2005 to 2008, here. Now FEC’s preferred measure of performance is to look at refereed publications only and to use the ‘weighted by author’ measure. That measure means that if I were to co-author with say a international academic that would only count for half of a single authored piece. You can see that on that measure FEC outperforms MBS. So Ian King is right, my statement on ‘any’ objective measure MBS outperforms FEC is wrong. I should have written on virtually all objective measures of research output our faculty out performed those of FEC (citations, journal publications and grants received per capita). Mea culpa.
But that raises a question as to what the right measure is. It is hard to tell. The University when comparing faculties places weight on DIISR publications. And it is true that MBS encourages co-authorship and we do not believe that a co-authored paper is worth half of a single authored one. This might reflect a difference in philosophy but I can’t, as an economist, draw that conclusion just because FEC chooses to highlight refereed publications weighted as its preferred measure.
Anyhow, the data is there for all to see and I was happy to spend time compiling it because I think it is very important. Students are welcome to look at it or, even better, look at the research itself when choosing institutions. (They can also look at The Economist’s ‘Which MBA?’ ranking but I’ll admit that is just one ranking). And they can see how academic discourse emerges in public arenas as information too.
[Update: Put some data in front of academics and they can’t help but fret over it (or I guess be led by it!). A FEC colleague griped that the data didn’t adjust for quality. An MBS colleague worried about the same thing and grabbed the data on papers and their classification using the Australian Business Dean’s Council. As I understand it these classifications are contentious and the government is coming up with a new one. In their absence, the spreadsheet now includes the quality breakdown for refereed journal articles for 2008 (the year MBS supposedly performed worse than FEC on that measure). (I am happy for anyone to provide data for other years). Anyhow, you can see that MBS had a much greater share of A* and A articles then FEC in that year (57% to 36%) so much so that on a per faculty basis it outperformed FEC on A* publications.
Also, by way of update, Ian King has told me his comments were all ‘tongue in cheek.’ I can see that perspective (and am happy that that is the case) but the data can of worms has now been opened.]