Memorandum submitted by the University
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.
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.
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
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 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
16 January 2002