Arts metrics plan revealed

September 8, 2006

An RAEalternative for the arts and humanities focuses on a 100-point research scale, writes Anthea Lipsett

A radical new system to judge research quality and allocate funding after the 2008 research assessment exercise was mooted this week.

An expert group set up by the Arts and Humanities Research Council to examine alternative ways to assess research has developed a complex metrics-based system using quantitative information about a university department's research activity and research outcomes to determine how billions of pounds in research funding would be distributed in the future.

The system includes a 100-point scale, in which points are allocated for various aspects of a department's performance, including its supervision of postgraduate students and its spending on facilities, as well as the number of successful research grants it has won and the number of publications and conference papers it has produced.

The plan was this week put to panel members of the 2008 RAE for consultation.

Michael Worton, vice-provost of University College London, who chairs the expert group, stressed that the model was not conclusive and was supposed to provoke debate rather than preclude alternatives.

But he said he hoped that the final recommendations the group made in mid-October could eventually apply to research across the disciplines, potentially rivalling metrics systems already proposed by the Government for judging science research.

"This is definitely not a blueprint for the future," he said.

Whatever system the group finally comes up with will be mapped against the outcomes of the 2001 and 2008 RAEs, Professor Worton said, and could be calibrated to work for all subjects, not just the arts and humanities or social sciences.

"We want to find something that fits all the research councils," he added.

Under the model, up to 30 of the 100 points would be allocated for a department or research unit's average overall income from peer-reviewed research grants.

This would count not only research council grants but also grants from other sources, such as English Heritage, which is important in archaeology.

Research output productivity - the number of publications, performances, exhibitions or books - would also be worth up to 30 points.

Organising research conferences or editing collections of essays would also count here.

Supervising postgraduates successfully and hosting postdoctoral researchers would be worth up to 10 points, as would inputs to the research environment, such as the money spent on research and postgraduate facilities and external funding brought in for postgraduates.

Delivering papers at international conferences would count for five points and so would other esteem indicators such as external PhD examinerships, editing journals, translating monographs, foreign visiting lectureships, hosting foreign visitors and advising public bodies.

A further 10 points would go towards disseminating research and knowledge transfer work such as developing software, databases, websites, broadcasts or writing a popular book.

"People see metrics and think bibliometrics and that's only one type,"

Professor Worton said.

"We're not just looking for something to fit the RAE but are taking a real long-term look at research evaluation. Whatever we do will influence behaviour so we need to look in a long-term way," he said.

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