Why I'm for metrics

April 28, 2006

I read with interest vice-chancellors' views on the research assessment exercise's future ("V-cs add to RAE clamour", April 7). But surely it would be of interest to hear from those who will be assessed?

I would support a metrics-based RAE with a strong emphasis on research outputs as well as grant inputs for the sciences, biosciences, medicine and engineering even for 2008. Why is there such a fuss about metrics for the sciences when charitable research income is already used as a component of quality-related funding?

With such an enormous breadth of submissions in areas such as biological sciences, in reality panel members may often have to rely on a gut feeling and on their personal networking and they may anyway be tempted to use other metrics such as the recent volume of an individual's research papers as well as impact factors and citations.

Surely transparent metrics could provide a fairer system than the present science assessment, although this would not be appropriate for some areas in the arts, humanities and social sciences.

Since publications and grants have already been peer reviewed by specialists, I would hope most scientists would accept the number, quality (indicated by journal impact factor) and citations of publications as an acceptable metric of output in relation to the total competitive research grant income as input. In addition, PhD completions and academic costs in relation to all these measures could be used in rating departments or institutes.

So why not ditch the RAE, save £45 million and move to a more objective method of evaluation of research activities?

Steve Nahorski. Leicester University

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