Memorandum submitted by the British Medical
Association's Medical Academic Staff Committee (MASC)
The Committee notes that there has been a general
uplift in the gradings awarded to medicine in the 2001 RAE, although
the relativities of rank have remained virtually constant. It
is not certain whether there has been an increase in standards
overall, or whether the assessors have better understood the system;
however it is acknowledged that 5 and 5* departments are refereed
by international monitors, which, it is felt, provide a suitable
measure of objectivity. The achievement of higher scores by increasing
numbers of institutions is welcome in that it leads to a wider
distribution of monies; incentives must however be maintained.
We are concerned that the overall amount of money available has
not increased, so the increase in 5 and 5* ratings means that
less money is available for three or four rated departments. This
"ceiling effect" keeps the exercise punitive rather
than rewarding all those who improve their position.
More generally, the exercise continues to distort
reward systems within universities and medical schools, often
leading to disparagement of dedicated teachers. The argument that
a quality-sensitive teaching allocation would be potentially be
more de-stabilising to HEIs than the research allocation is unsustainable
and a vigorous debate on rewarding teaching excellence, both institutionally
and personally, is long overdue.
The scores in clinical and community subjects
have shown a marked improvement suggesting that the RAE at last
is focussing on the needs and interests within these subjects.
However, this raises the important issue of the continued conflict
between what the RAE and the NHS demand from research. The NHS
is less interested in research that does not have an immediate
effect on patient management or throughput and service efficiency.
The RAE works against applied research, especially in clinical
areas where there is niche interest for example orthopaedics.
Surgical and related areas suffer most, where there is a general
move away from surgically related studies towards research into
molecular and cell biology.
There remain concerns about the overall cost
of the RAE. Such money expended on the process could perhaps better
be directed towards new research rather than assessing research
that has already been subject to peer review.
We observed that the number of returns in the
2001 RAE varied enormously between schools, with a return rate
showing between 50 per cent-95 per cent of total staff being research-active,
a phenomenon which we believe might tend to skew results. Compared
to the previous round, there has been significant change in the
numbers of research-active returnees.
Pressure to publish in certain journals has
distorted the dissemination of much research, especially in instances
where results are published in Journals which are not read by
the practitioners within a narrow spectrum or discipline. Proportions
of national and international papers act as absolute hurdles to
higher ratings whilst allowing and even encouraging manipulation
and selection of RAE returnees.
It is also likely that the RAE continues to
militate against "blue skies" research, with success
depending on becoming part of existing successful projects rather
than establishing new lines of inquiry. It is now considerably
more difficult to raise money for research projects that are outside
the RAE or which are in fields outside the thrust of mainline