Leader: Aid blue-chip research

April 2, 2004

The latest complaint against the research assessment exercise is that it is damaging British innovation by taking cash away from university departments that carry out research with a comparatively short three to ten-year horizon.

The fact that the RAE identifies different winners from those that companies want to work with is not the problem. The RAE is not meant to tell industrial research managers where to put their cash. The issue is that departments with poor RAE scores are inherently less well-resourced than more highly rated ones and risk becoming unattractive to other funders.

But using industrial relevance as a significant RAE criterion would remove money from longer-term work that industry will not pay for. One alternative is a new stream of cash for medium-term research. The current Treasury consultation on the ten-year future of science needs to produce solid responses to the problem of getting business more involved in universities.

Closing a gap that could prevent industry getting the research it needs should be a priority. Industry could play its part by making a longer-term commitment to support departments that get the new money, guaranteeing them several years of funding.

British companies' reluctance to make use of university research is a long-standing problem. It would be a pity if the firms that want to do so had fresh barriers placed in their way.

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