Future concerns 1

October 27, 2006

The article on the University and College Union poll on the future of research assessment may not have sufficiently emphasised the apparent contradictions ("41% would like next exercise to be halted", October 13).

Almost all respondents rejected the Government's hasty metrics proposals. But, by contrast, those who wanted to junk the 2008 research assessment exercise and those who wished it to continue (with qualifications) each comprised just over 40 per cent of the respondents.

Most respondents believed that some sort of ongoing review of the quality and practical value of research must underpin the Government's future research funding. There was fairly broad agreement that the core of this review system should be peer review of research performance, possibly supplemented by some limited metrics data on research outputs.

So what do the bulk of academics really want? Apparently not the RAE.

Rather, something that does much the same job as the RAE but puts less stress on the universities and the review panels.

Universities do undergo local upheavals in the run-up to each RAE, but these mountains of effort are generally self-inflicted. For instance, internal demands such as requirements for a near-final RAE text almost a year before the census date is institutional self-flagellation.

Now that the Government's RAE consultation is closed, it seems likely that there will be a stark choice - either bulldoze through a set of metrics proposals against near-universal condemnation or think again.

Bob Michell
Birmingham University

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