Select Committee on Science and Technology Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


APPENDIX 5

Memorandum submitted by the University of Bristol

  The 2001 RAE endorsed the findings of other recent independent studies commissioned by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, which show that the UK is a major global player in research, leading the world in many areas that are critical to understanding the needs of contemporary society, improving the quality of life and stimulating economic growth. This is a peculiarly British story of success: it has been achieved despite receiving considerably less investment (from both government and industry) than other comparative OECD countries, and we are now apparently reluctant to believe in our own achievements.

IMPROVEMENTS ARE DUE TO BETTER MANAGEMENT, STRATEGIC FOCUS AND GROWTH

  It has been suggested that the RAE 2001 results do not represent a real improvement in research performance but are due to a more adept gamesmanship by the academic community. The University of Bristol is engaged on a daily basis in internationally competitive research at the highest level, across a broad range of subjects. We are used to rigorous and consistent peer review on the international stage and believe that the 2001 RAE gave an accurate and fair assessment of quality. Bristol is similar to other research-intensive universities in the UK in having radically improved its management of research in the last decade, as a direct result of selective assessment. The University put in place robust mechanisms for the strategic development of research, investing in quality and strength to grow and attract the best researchers in our selected fields. Of the 1,170 academics submitted in the exercise, one third were submitted for the first time. Resources are hard won and well managed, activity is cost efficient and increasingly focussed on priorities. It is this, and the commitment of talented researchers producing genuinely excellent work, that led us to do well in the recent exercise.

  It is also important to repeat that this RAE had international referees who validated the assessments and that other indicators of success, especially, citation rates for publications, are independently showing great improvement.

INVESTMENT IS NEEDED TO PROTECT EXCELLENCE AND BUILD ON THE UK'S INTERNATIONAL LEAD

  Bristol submitted to 46 Units of Assessment, 36 of which (75 per cent of staff) were awarded the highest Grades 5 and 5*. Trying to maintain this tradition of excellence and achieve the world-class potential of UK research with insufficient resources and a crumbling infrastructure (persistently underfunded laboratories and libraries) feels to those involved like a struggle for survival. Attracting new researchers and retaining our most exceptional talent in a low paid profession is increasingly challenging, and restricts our ability to grow. We would therefore urge the Government to take the opportunity provided by these recent improvements to build on the UK's international strength by raising its level of investment closer to those of its major competitors:

  
Research funding as a proportion of GDP
USA
2.64%
Germany
2.39%
France
2.26%
UK
1.80%


  Figures for 1997. Source OECD.

Research is the lifeblood of the Knowledge-Based Economy

  Recent reports commissioned by the OECD and the UK Government emphasise the increasingly important synergy between economic prosperity and the creation and exploitation of knowledge. The UK thus has a major opportunity to exploit its international lead in research to improve industrial performance and international competitiveness. The Universities have in recent years done much to play a key role in transferring knowledge from the laboratory to the market place. Bristol is working with industry to exploit a current portfolio of 120 patents and in the last 12 months launched eight high-tech spin-off companies. We have almost 500 new contracts a year with our industrial partners. Through its Enterprise Programme, Bristol provides training in entrepreneurship skills to over 300 staff and students, and is embedding entrepreneurship into the science and engineering curriculum.

THE DUAL SUPPORT SYSTEM SHOULD CONTINUE BUT INVEST MORE SELECTIVELY IN EXCELLENCE

  The University of Bristol believes that the dual funding system for the support of research in universities should continue. It provides a necessary level of stability in an uncertain environment, allowing institutions to plan strategically to protect and grow basic research. Alternative proposals all involve increased short-termism and reduce our ability to plan ahead.

  Some system of rationing scarce resources is obviously necessary if the best basic research in universities is to be protected and the UK's international lead is to be sustained and properly exploited. There are problems with the RAE as a system of rationing. It is inadequately funded and at the same time not bold enough in the distribution of funds to the top grades. While it is right that potential and ambition should be encouraged, the reality of the funding situation demands that in the interests of protecting national excellence, 5 and 5* departments must be resourced at a level that allows them to maintain and build on their international standing.

16 January 2002



 
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