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


Memorandum submitted by the Office of Science and Technology, Department of Trade and Industry


  1.  RAE outcomes are used by the Funding Councils in England, Scotland and Wales and by the Department for Employment and Learning in Northern Ireland ("the Funding Councils") in the formulae which allocate quality-related research funding to higher education establishments (HEIs). Strictly speaking, matters relating to the RAE are for those bodies and their parent Departments in the countries concerned. However, as the partner, with these bodies, in the Dual Support funding system, through its support for basic and strategic research through the Research Councils, the Office of Science and Technology (OST) has an interest in the RAE. This lies principally in the extent that it—or the allocation formulae which it contributes to—affects the health of the UK science and engineering base (SEB) and the interaction between the SEB and research users, such as industry. The OST is the only Dual Support funder which takes a UK-wide view of science and engineering research. But its remit does not include research in the arts and humanities which are covered by the RAE.

  2.  OST's views on the RAE fall into two broad areas:

    —  The way in which RAE outcomes are used by the Funding Councils to allocate quality-related research funding;

    —  The RAE itself—its purpose, scope and execution.


  3.  The quality-related research funding distributed by the Funding Councils effectively supports two types of research in higher education institutions, namely:

    —  It provides the underpinning for the work driven by the Research Councils (and to some extent the research charities). This work is selected by the Research Councils in a competitive process on the grounds of significance and scientific excellence as determined by extensive consultation and peer review within the national and international scientific communities.

    —  It provides the costs (or the bulk of the costs) of research driven by HEIs. Such work may be able to respond flexibly and rapidly to emerging opportunities in science and research, though generally without the breadth of input that the Research Councils can call upon.

  4.  The health of the Science and Engineering Base depends on supporting only excellent research and striking a careful balance on the one hand between concentration and dispersal of excellent research activity and on the other hand between Research Council-led and institution-led research. The evidence suggests that the UK has—and has had for some time—one of the more successful (and on one measure at least the most successful) Science and Engineering Base in the world. The Office of Science and Technology therefore considers it imperative that the any changes to the incentives or other mechanisms that determine the balances in the present system should be considered with considerable caution. OST is particularly keen to ensure that institutions in receipt of Research Council grants receive the funding they require properly to underpin this research.


  5.  The RAE has played an important part, alongside the peer review systems of the Research Councils and other funders, in strengthening the quality of UK higher education research across a wide variety of disciplines and across the bulk of the higher education sector. The excellent standing which UK university research currently enjoys internationally is seen by many to be attributable—in some measure—to the success of the RAE at motivating universities to concentrate on the highest quality of research. The improvement in quality as measured by the RAE was particularly marked in the RAE 2001 results announced in December 2001.

  6.  In any review of the operation of RAE 2001, OST would like to see the following points looked at in detail, and lessons drawn for future such exercises:

    —  Is the RAE giving sufficient weight to all aspects of research that the public funding which the RAE drives is intended to promote and support? In particular:

    —  Is sufficient recognition given to excellence in cross-disciplinary research, which is not represented explicitly in terms of Units of Assessment (UoAs)?

    —  Does the RAE take adequate account of industry-sponsored—or co-sponsored—research (as distinct from development)? The Department of Trade and Industry has already stated its intention to review this question following RAE 2001[9] and will do so in the light of the Funding Councils' monitoring and evaluation report on the exercise. Related to this question, is there scope for reducing the burden of participation placed on industry and commerce-based panel members in order to encourage more such people to take part in the future?

    —  Are the current rules—for example, the UoAs and allowing departments to exclude research active staff from their RAE submissions—the best way to assess quality so as to promote the efficient and effective support of truly excellent and ground-breaking research across the system?

January 2002

9   Excellence and Opportunity, Cm 4814, July 2000; chapter 2, paragraph 23. Back

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