Hefce and the AHRC consider government plans to alter assessment methods, reports Anthea Lipsett
A group of academics is to draw up a list of metrics that could be used to assess research in the arts and humanities.
The group will be chaired by Michael Worton, vice-provost and professor of French at University College London. It will look at the potential for using quantitative information about research activities and outcomes to allocate research funding.
It is due to advise the Higher Education Funding Council for England and the Arts and the Humanities Research Council on its findings in October.
The group was set up to help respond to the proposals to make greater use of metrics in assessing research quality, benchmarking research internationally and allocating Hefce's research grant after 2008. The proposals appeared in the Government's Next Steps document published with this year's Budget in April.
John Caughie, professor of film and television studies at Glasgow University and one of the group's academic members, said people were nervous of using metrics in the arts and humanities but the group would try to allay fears.
"The anxiety is about whether you can have metrics without any peer review as it is presently constituted. Can you rely on peer review in research councils or journal boards or is there a number of metrics that will make peer review unnecessary?"
Professor Caughie said the group would approach the task with an open mind.
"Science, technology, engineering and medicine metrics don't work for the arts and humanities. They seem to be driven simply by research income," he said.
"There are questions about how bibliometrics would apply. We will look at a broad range and see what works. If we can come up with a system that allows people to do research rather than spend time measuring it, that would be terrific," he added.
David Eastwood, who becomes Hefce chief executive in September, said:
"Developing appropriate metrics for research assessment and funding will be a major task for Hefce over the coming year.
"We recognise that more work is needed to develop robust and effective metrics-based approaches for arts and humanities disciplines in particular, and the expert group will play a key role in helping us to take this forward."
Philip Esler, the AHRC chief executive, said: "The AHRC has a remit to support high-quality research in the arts and humanities. We are pleased to have this opportunity to work with Hefce to develop better indicators for research quality in these disciplines, and we attach particular importance to taking the considered advice of research practitioners on this."
The group's first meeting will be held at the end of July.
- Chair: Michael Worton (University College London)
- Ex officio: Tony McEnery (research director, AHRC); and Paul Hubbard (head of research policy, Hefce)
- Academic: Bruce Brown (Brighton University); John Caughie (Glasgow University); Roger Kain (Exeter University); Morag Shiach (Queen Mary, University of London); Paul Slack (Oxford University); and Liz Slater (Liverpool University)