Seeking an equitable measure for the RAE 1

January 1, 2009

Researchers all over the country have now found out the results of the 2008 research assessment exercise ("RAE 2008: the results", 18 December). For some, it is a moment of joy, but for others, it is a moment of disappointment and despair. The good news, or perhaps not-so-good news, is that no more RAEs will take place because the RAE will be replaced by the research excellence framework.

Whatever you call it, it is still an assessment of research quality, so it is critically important that a fair and appropriate evaluation procedure is in place. It is perhaps reasonable for the research community to demand a robust and reliable assessment protocol. However, this does not seem to be the case.

The RAE peer-review panel looks into three areas: outputs, esteem and environment. The final score is a weighted sum of individual scores from the three areas.

Well, in every other profession or business, your success is evaluated according to your productivity - ie, the profit you make divided by the money that you have spent. In the RAE, your success is apparently measured by adding up your profit (output related) and the money you spent (mainly grant in this case), and we have been doing this for more than 20 years.

Rather than adding up, the research quality should be quantified by research output divided by research spending. Therefore, multimillion-pound projects should generate multimillion pounds' worth of impact.

The universities value research income because they like money, and consequently it is not surprising that they put the ability to generate income at the top of their selection criteria when recruiting new staff. But for research evaluation, adding outputs to research income is definitely the wrong procedure, and should be corrected before the REF is introduced in 2015.

Quanmin Guo, University of Birmingham.

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