No.68 of Session 2003-04  23 September 2004


Publication of report

The Science and Technology Committee published its follow-up Report  - Research Assessment Exercise: a re-assessment (HC 586) -  at 11.00am on Thursday 23 September 2004.

The Committee concludes that the proposals for the next Research Assessment Exercise, scheduled for 2008 contained some positive elements, particularly the introduction of the quality profile to replace the 7-point rating scale. This should eliminate the financial incentive for “games-playing”. Also, the new panel and sub-panel structure should improve the consistency in assessments between Units of Assessment and the treatment of interdisciplinary  and applied research.

In other respects the Committee regards the proposals as too timid. The Funding Bodies should have accepted the recommendations of Sir Gareth Roberts to abandon the “one size fits all” approach and to demand that institutions satisfy minimum standards of research competence. The development of metrics should be intensified and where possible these should be used to replace the peer review process and lighten the bureaucratic burden.

Yet to be resolved are the distorting effects of the RAE - and the funding decisions based on it - on other aspects of universities’ activities. Comparable incentives, especially for teaching, are necessary if these are to be overcome.

The Chairman of the Committee, Dr Ian Gibson, said “The Funding Bodies are moving in the right direction, but painfully slowly. Making further changes will upset a lot of people but the Funding Bodies are there to distribute research funds for the public good, not to make vice-chancellors happy”.

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Notes for Editors

• Under the terms of Standing Order No. 152 the Committee is empowered to examine the “expenditure, policy and administration of the Office of Science and Technology and its associated public bodies@. The Committee was appointed on 12 November 2001.

• Two evidence sessions were held in relation to the inquiry. On 19 May 2004, the Committee took evidence from Professor Sir Gareth Roberts; Lord May of Oxford, President of the Royal Society; Professor Ivor Crewe, Vice-Chancellor of University of Essex and Professor Adrian Smith, Principal of Queen Mary, University of London, representing Universities UK; and from Sir Howard Newby and Mr Rama Thirunamachandran, respectively, Chief Executive and Director of Research and Knowledge Transfer at the Higher Education Funding Council for England. On 7 June 2004, we took evidence from Ms Natalie Fenton, Senior Lecturer in Communications & Media Studies, at Loughborough University, Professor Ian Haines, Director of the Graduate School at London Metropolitan University, Professor Richard Joyner, Dean of Research at Nottingham Trent University, and Dr Steve Wharton, a Senior Lecturer at the University of Bath.

• The Committee published its report The Research Assessment Exercise (HC 507) on 25 April 2002  as its second Report of Session 2001-02.