In a surprising, but welcome, move, the Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, Senator Kim Carr, has announced the scrapping of the prescriptive quality indicators for journals. The grading of journals as A*, A, B or C will no longer be applied and these gradings will no longer be the indicators of research excellence.

The Minister yesterday (30 May 2011) released a Ministerial Statement to the Senate Economics Legislation Committee announcing this change as one of several improvements to the Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) project.

The changes are in response to feedback from the sector and the finding of “clear and consistent evidence that the rankings were being deployed inappropriately … in ways that could produce harmful outcomes”.  Many research institution were asking their researchers to contribute only to A* and A ranked journals. This was noted in Senator Carr’s Statement, where he said that a “common example [of inappropriate use of the rankings] was the setting of targets for publication in A and A* journals by institutional research managers”. This is only one of the many consequences that arose from the implementation of the ranking of journals in particular sectors.

A replacement for the prescriptive ranking of journals is to be introduced in the form of a “journal quality profile”. This will show the “most frequently published journals for each unit of evaluation”. It is not yet clear how the publishing frequency will impact the quality profile or what it will mean for research institutions, researchers, publishers and others.  The Australian Research Council’s website says that:

… RECs will be presented with a profile of journals and conferences for each unit of evaluation (UoE) ordered by descending frequency of publication. This approach will allow RECs to identify the depth and spread of publishing behaviours and make informed expert judgement regarding the quality and relevance of the journals and conferences to each UoE.

How this will work in practice remains to be seen, however the move appears to be a step in the right direction.