Memorandum submitted by the Engineering
and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)
2001 RAE AND RAE IN
The RAE attempts to assess research
quality and is then used to drive funding allocations.
The indications are that successive
RAEs have had the effect of improving the quality and management
of university research but we believe their value is now diminishing.
Since performance metrics can condition
behaviour it is critically important that the metrics are appropriately
chosen to trigger the outcomes desired; it seems to us that not
all behaviours we observeand attribute in part at least
to the RAEare in fact desirable.
In particular, we have seen continually
increasing demand for EPSRC research grantsfrom a wider
cross-section of the academic communitynow grossly exceeding
the funds available. We believe this may in part be attributed
to the role of grant capture in the RAE and the importance to
the universities of the level and flexibility of application of
the QR funding stream associated with the RAE results. Yet the
mismatch between applications and EPSRC grant funds available
is now so severe that it results in much wasted effort for academic
researchers in generating and assessing many more research proposals
than can be funded. To this extent at least the RAE in its present
form is perhaps becoming counter productive.
In the past we expressed particular
concern that the RAE tended to reinforce disciplinarity
(because assessments are made by discipline-based Panels) at a
time when encouragement of multidisciplinary (or interdisciplinary)
research is recognised as of particular important. Steps have
been taken to handle interdisciplinary submissions but our observers
report differently from the various panels on how effective this
has proved. We conclude that multidisciplinary research may not
have been dealt with uniformly across the RAE; if true this is
The Panels were felt to have undertaken
their work with exemplary honesty and diligence but we observe
that the assessment remains fundamentally one predominantly by
academics. It seems to us that there remain too few active
industrialists on the Panels and the impression gained is that
as a consequence industrially-relevant, applied work has
perhaps not always been well-handled.
We comment that the involvement of
international expertise is limited so the thoroughness of the
international calibration could be questioned.
The RAE is a very substantial exercise;
it's future will need careful consideration in the light of the
findings of the transparency review.
Given the general level of "grade
improvement" that has occurred it seems to us that other,
less burdensome, arrangements might now be adopted for channelling
these research funds to the universitiesperhaps by linking
the funding more directly to the "normal business" peer
review processes and decisions of the Research Councils and similar