Academic journal article International Journal of Training Research

Voices from a Small Discipline: How the Australian Vocational Education and Training Discipline Made Sense of Journal Rankings

Academic journal article International Journal of Training Research

Voices from a Small Discipline: How the Australian Vocational Education and Training Discipline Made Sense of Journal Rankings

Article excerpt


This paper, against the backdrop of an explanation of the recent history of journal rankings in Australia, discusses journal-ranking activities in the vocational education and training (VET) discipline. These activities were undertaken under the auspices of AVETRA, the Australian Vocational Education and Training Research Association. Like many discipline groupings, this association comprises practitioners and others interested in the discipline, as well as academics. The discipline undertakes research in non-higher education postcompulsory education settings, and in the education and training of adults in workplace and community settings. It is often seen as a sub-group of the large Education discipline, although it also has members who identify with other disciplines such as Management and Psychology.

AVETRA was involved in consultations in the Australian national journal ranking process during the time of the preparations for the Research Quality Framework in 2006-2007, through the replacement of the RQF with the Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) exercise, until the abolition of national journal rankings in 2011. The association worked with other bodies in the education field on the Education discipline's rankings, and also undertook its own in-depth ranking process for the small field of VET journals.

This paper outlines the AVETRA journal ranking process as well as the main Education ranking process, and compares the results of the two rankings for journals in the VET field. The paper also reports on AVETRA's members' views about journal rankings. In late 2010 the author surveyed AVETRA members to investigate views about journal rankings in general, about the ERA rankings, and the AVETRA rankings in particular. The findings of this survey suggested general support for journal rankings. The paper discusses the implications of the findings for the evaluation of quality in journals more generally.

It should be noted that 'rankings' should more properly be called 'ratings', as no relative rankings were provided within (as opposed to between) each of the four tiers that were used in Australia. Journals were simply allocated to one of four tiers: A*, A, B and C. However, the word 'ranking' has always been used, and hence it is used throughout this paper.

Background and literature review

In Australia, the topic of journal rankings has been a 21st century hot topic; but elsewhere, and indeed in some disciplines in Australia, such as Business, journal rankings have been commonplace. Journal ranking in Australia in its current iteration was prompted by the previous Liberal government's Research Quality Framework (RQF) exercise. Along with other measures such as research impact, journal rankings formed a key plank of the exercise. However, this Framework was never implemented, being abolished by the incoming Labor government in 2007. In the new research quality exercise, Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA), journal rankings were retained initially. The ERA has relied, in comparison with the RQF, on hard data as compared with argument; for example, to date there is no measurement of 'real-world' research impact (as distinct from scholarly impact factors such as citations, which are commonly used in science disciplines). Therefore, journal rankings seemed to be more important. The first ERA exercise was carried out in 2010 and included the use of journal rankings. However, rankings were discontinued in 2011 and the ERA exercise was repeated in 2012 without them.

Responsibility for the research quality exercises was originally vested with the government department responsible for higher education, and subsequently with the Australian Research Council, which is also the main, and most prestigious, granting agency in Australian research. In the ERA exercise, universities were allocated 'scores' from 1 (lowest) to 5 (highest) for research in each of the Fields of Research. …

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