Following up on Joshua’s post. It takes a lot of effort to do good research and even more to get the top researchers in your field to be sufficiently impressed by your work that they recommend its publication in a leading international journal. For scientific research, these leading journals include ‘Nature’ and ‘Science’. In statistics they include the Annals of Statistics, JASA and a few others. Physics, in addition to Nature and Science, has Physical Review. In the area of economics there is international consensus on which journals are ranked in the top five, and which belong in the top thirty.
Australia is academically a very small country. What that means is that the research activities of Australian-based academics have no perceptible effects on the regard that the international academic community has for the various publication outlets. In that sense, we are price takers.
When an Australian academic manages to publish in a top journal, the signal is clear: The work has been deemed by leading members of the profession to be excellent and as good if not better than their own. Such publications provide the academic with significant international exposure and scholarly rewards.
For decades Australia’s academic community has been operating in essentially a protected industry not accountable to international norms and not accountable to the relative values that the international profession places on scholarly achievements. In the area of economics, research performance in many wealthy departments has been well under par by international standards. The protection afforded by lack of accountability meant that individual professors in some departments formulated ad-hoc incentives that were at odds with international standards. There were exceptions. From time to time we saw the emergence of excellent departments such as Melbourne, UNSW and the ANU where top researchers got together and set up incentive structures in line with international standards.
ERA in its first round adopted journal rankings in economics that are more or less is in line with international standards. In doing so it brought to bear values that much of the Australian academe had ignored. It opened up the university sector to international competition and made universities accountable to the values in international market for ideas. As with the removal of other forms of protection, this change has brought a barrage of complaints. This is not to say that there aren’t aspects of the ERA that warrant complaint. However, it is consistent with the notion that some of the rents from a comfortable life and a lack of scrutiny are being threatened.