In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Performance-based Research Funding

  • Introduction
  • Overviews and Bibliographies
  • International Comparisons
  • Influence and Critiques of PBRF

Education Performance-based Research Funding
Alis Oancea, Xin Xu
  • LAST REVIEWED: 17 May 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 May 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0182


The distribution of organizational funding for research on the basis of past or anticipated performance has spread internationally during the late 20th and early 21st centuries, with a growing number of countries introducing such systems, often in parallel with existent models for the competitive allocation of direct research project funding. Hicks 2012 (performance-based university research funding systems), counted fourteen such systems internationally; in 2016, with a more inclusive definition, Jonkers and Zacharewicz (research performance-based funding systems) identified seventeen systems in Europe only. The literature is in wide agreement in linking the spread of performance-based ranking and funding with neoliberal emphases on global competitiveness and the knowledge economy, as well as to the growth of new public management principles such as accountability, productivity, marketization, or devolution (Hicks 2012; Hazelkorn 2015). According to Hicks 2012, performance-based research funding systems (PBRFS) are based on ex-post, or retrospective, evaluation of research at national level; include an evaluation of research output; and their results inform government’s distribution of research funding. This definition excludes systems based on the size of organizations; evaluations of teaching; (exclusively) proxies for research, such as PhD completions or research income; ex ante evaluations of expected performance; universities’ assessments of their own performance for organizational purposes; and evaluations that are not directly tied to the distribution of government research funding but serve purposes such as facilitating transparency and feedback. Hicks’s definition was used in OECD and EC reports and was extended by Jonkers and Zacharewicz 2016 to include performance-based distribution of funding for postgraduate research. A parallel development to the growth of national PBRFS of the type described by Hicks has been the increased use of performance “compacts,” “agreements,” or “contracts between higher education institutions and governmental bodies” (de Boer, et al. 2015; Hazelkorn 2015). According de Boer, et al. 2015, such arrangements “are here to stay” (p. 5) and are responsible for new waves of performance-based funding. Research is increasingly part of the performance indicators included in these documents, in the shape of, for example, indicators of research productivity, quality, income, training, impact and transfer, or more loosely, research environment and “cultures.” This article adopts an inclusive understanding of PBRF as an umbrella term encompassing national-level systems, models, and instruments for associating a proportion of government funding grants for research with assessments of past or expected research performance by higher education institutions. Thus, it covers funding systems based on ex-post evaluations of past research performance, such as PBRFS that use large-scale assessments or research metrics/ indicators (e.g., the United Kingdom Research Excellence Framework/REF, the Hong Kong [China] Research Assessment Exercise/RAE, or the New Zealand Performance-based Research Fund [PBRF]). It also covers funding models based on ex-ante agreements that include indicators of future research performance (outputs, impact, research degrees, research income, etc.) and provisions for monitoring, reporting, and auditing it (e.g., organizational performance agreements, performance contracts, or development plans that specify expectations of future research performance—such as those implemented in the Netherlands and Finland). The two models may operate in parallel. Our interpretation of PBRF excludes global league table systems and internal university-driven systems, neither of which was specifically designed for a direct link to the distribution of governmental funding. PBRF-related terminology also includes “performance-based budgeting” (which does not fulfill the criterion of direct and tight linkage between funding and performance) and “performance reporting” (which has no funding outcome) (Nisar 2015, cited under Influence and Critiques of PBRF), neither of which are specifically the focus of this article.

Overviews and Bibliographies

This section includes policy, theoretical, and reference works on research performance and on performance-based funding for research. They provide a background for understanding the definitions of PBRF (Hicks 2012; Jonkers and Zacharewicz 2016); the distinction between large scale retrospective assessments of performance and forward-looking performance agreements (de Boer, et al. 2015); and the wider theoretical and practical literature on performance, research assessment, and ranking (Hazelkorn 2015; Lucas 2016).

  • de Boer, H., B. Jongbloed, P. Benneworth, et al. 2015. Performance-based funding and performance agreements in fourteen higher education systems. Report C15HdB014 for the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. Twente, The Netherlands: Center for Higher Education Policy Studies.

    This report offers a detailed comparative analysis of the use of performance agreements as a mechanism for the performance-based funding of higher education institutions in ten countries. Some of these agreements include elements of research performance, and the report includes detailed tables outlining them. The report concludes that “performance agreements are here to stay” but also that each national context is unique and thus cannot provide “policy recipes” for other contexts (p. 5).

  • Hazelkorn, E. 2015. Rankings and the reshaping of higher education. 2d ed. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave.

    DOI: 10.1057/9781137446671

    Book discussing the role of rankings, including research rankings, in shaping higher education organizations as they vie for positional goods in a global “reputation race” (p. 1). It reviews the literature on rankings and higher education policy, including theories of globalization and networks, organizational behavior and change, social capital and positional goods, explorations of neo-liberal and social democratic policy models. This theoretical landscape is useful in understanding PBRFS.

  • Hicks, D. 2012. Performance-based university research funding systems. Research Policy 41.2: 251–261.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.respol.2011.09.007

    Based on a review conducted for the OECD in 2010 (see also Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) 2010, cited under International Comparisons). It proposed an influential definition of PBRFS, on the basis of which fourteen national PBRFS were selected and compared: United Kingdom, Spain, Slovak Republic, Hong Kong, Australia, Poland, Portugal, Italy, New Zealand, Belgium, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland. The conclusions note how the power of these systems arises less from financial incentives and more from the competition for prestige that they engender.

  • Jonkers, K., and T. Zacharewicz. 2016. Research performance based funding systems: A comparative assessment. EUR 27837 EN.

    DOI: 10.2791/659483

    This report describes and compares three categories of research performance-based funding models: limited PBRF, for example using indicators of PhD completions (Austria, Germany, and the Netherlands); organizational funding allocation mechanisms based on bibliometric assessments of research output (Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Croatia, Poland, Sweden, and Slovakia); and funding allocation systems based on peer assessment of universities and/or university groups (France, Italy, Lithuania, Portugal, and UK) (p. 22).

  • Lucas, L. 2016. Performance-based research assessment in higher education. In Oxford Bibliographies in Education. Edited by Luanna Meyer and Anne Hynds. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Annotated bibliography of Performance-based Research Assessment (PBRA) in higher education.

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