The results of the Research Assessment Exercise 2001 show a marked improvement in universities' research performance. There has been some gamesmanship. Some departments have been assessed only on a proportion of their researchers and have juggled researchers and departmental boundaries to optimise their returns. But overall we accept that there has been genuine improvement.
The RAE has had positive effects: it has stimulated universities into managing their research and has ensured that funds have been targeted at areas of research excellence. But it also stands accused of distorting research practice, ruining academic careers and contributing to the closure of university departments. It has imposed a huge administrative burden on those assessed. The RAE in its present form is generally agreed to have had its day. We explore a number of ways forward and propose a funding model which combines an alternative method of allocating money to the top departments with a reformed RAE and a development fund for new or improving departments.
It is very disappointing that the improvement demonstrated by RAE 2001 is not being recognised by Government in the funding allocations for 2002-03. DfES has provided an additional £30 million, far short of the extra £206 million required to fund the new ratings on the existing basis. Whether there is enough money for 2003-04 and beyond will depend on the outcome of the Spending Review 2002.
HEFCE should have anticipated the results of RAE 2001. It should either have ensured that it had sufficient funds to reward the improvement or at least warned universities that this was not to be. We are not convinced of the wisdom of its decision to target its limited budget on the highest-performing departments at the expense of those which are developing. DfES must also bear some responsibility: decisions so crucial to the future of UK research and the nature of higher education should not be left to an unelected quango.
Higher education research must be given a higher priority. The welcome increase in the Science Budget since 2000 must be matched by a commensurate increase in infrastructure support. We look to the Government to put this right in the Spending Review 2002. A significant increase in higher education research funding is required if the Government is to meet its commitment to exploit fully the UK's excellence in science and technology.
We consider that the matter requires debate by the House and suggest the following motion for debate by the House:
"That this House commends the higher education sector for the marked improvement in research quality demonstrated by the Research Assessment Exercise 2001; takes note of the conclusions and recommendations in the Second Report of the Science and Technology Committee on the Research Assessment Exercise (HC 507); notes the concerns reflected in that Report on the impact of the RAE on research priorities and on universities' other functions; acknowledges the vital contribution which higher education research in science and technology makes to society and to the economy; and calls on the Government to fund the RAE results fully in the forthcoming Spending Review."