A reformed RAE
83. It is generally agreed that there is a future
for the RAE, but not in its current form. We need an RAE with
a lighter touch. In this report we have identified a number
of areas which need addressing, both in the RAE process and in
84. Several submissions to the Committee expressed
the need for less frequent RAEs, and in particular for the next
one to be more than 5 years away. A 7 or 10 year RAE would be
less onerous but it would create problems for new or rising departments.
No ambitious department wishing to improve its research output
should be condemned to a low level of funding for such a period.
If longer intervals were introduced between RAEs there would have
to be a mechanism whereby departments could request a reassessment
before the scheduled assessment date. There is a clearly a trade-off
between a long assessment cycle to reduce the burden on researchers,
and the increased freedom to undertake speculative and long-term
research, and the danger of ossification in the system and the
danger that any new departments would have to wait longer before
QR funding is available to them, which would stifle their development.
Departments should be able to request a reassessment midway through
the cycle to reduce the funding delay for new departments and
those which have invested to increase their research capacity
and quality. Similarly,
HEFCE should be able to select departments to be reassessed if
there were indications that research quality had dropped there.
In her evidence, Margaret Hodge suggested the need to synchronise
the assessment process with the Government's spending cycle.
We recommend that the RAE should take place every six years,
with interim assessment as requested by developing departments
or as considered necessary by HEFCE.
85. The AUT has called for a postponement of the
next RAE. We share many of the AUT's reservations about the process,
but the priority must be to make decisions about future assessment,
make the necessary changes and introduce the necessary checks
and balances. Postponement of a decision could lead to inaction
which is in no-one's interest.
86. We believe that the RAE should continue but
only as a part of a broader higher education research funding
strategy in which its side effects and disadvantages are offset
by other mechanisms. We suggest the following model for discussion.
HEFCE's research budget could be divided into four sections -
(1) Funding excellence.
Top-rated departments would be exempted from the formal research
assessment process if they wish. Instead their Funding Council
income would be based on their project funding from Research Councils,
charities and other sources. Funding levels would need to reflect
the source of funding and the overheads included in that funding.
HEFCE might reward the individuals responsible for their department's
(2) Promoting new centres of excellence.
Other departments could continue to take part in a research
assessment process. Funding from the Funding Councils would
then be based on a formula relating research quality and volume
as at present but departments not reaching a minimum standard
of quality would not be funded.
(3) Developing research capacity.
Departments taking part in the research assessment process
could apply for development money through a bidding process and
would be assessed by subject panels based upon the RAE UoAs.
They would be required to enter subsequent RAEs to provide a benchmark
for improvement. Applications would be based on a business plan
which should indicate how they intend to achieve a higher research
(4) Fostering external collaborative
research. This fund would support the indirect costs
of institutions attracting external project funding. (This
would be akin to the GR funding stream which was available until
2001-02.) The amount of money provided to universities from this
fund would be based on universities income from external project
research. Top-rated departments would not be eligible for this
funding since external funding is already taken into account.
87. This model would release top performing departments
from the bureaucracy of the RAE while maintaining the incentive
to maintain or improve standards. It would provide the incentive
for all universities to engage in research and to strive for the
highest standards when doing so. It would allow for both the maintenance
of recognised centres of excellence and also for new groups or
centres to come through and new fields of research to be established.
The bidding system could also be used as a carrot to encourage
good practice in research management, perhaps in relation to matters
such as universities' implementation of the Concordat on research
careers. The fund for developing research capacity could succeed
SRIF, thus departments could bid for infrastructure within a larger
bid for research funding.
88. This model of research funding could operate
within a broader system of higher education funding which provides
incentives for excellence in all areas of universities' activities:
teaching, community and economic involvement as well as research.
The aim should be to produce a coherent funding system, with a
small number of flexible funds.