The problem of assessing the quality of broad areas of health-related research could be solved by setting up sub-panels beneath the main assessment panels, writes Alison Goddard.
The Higher Education Funding Council for England and the Department of Health made the suggestion in a consultation document published this week.
In the 1996 research assessment exercise, the units of assessment for health-related research were too broad to be evaluated properly, universities said. The funding councils use the RAE to decide what research funds a university receives. Expert panels assess subject areas every four to five years.
Now, as part of the consultation for the next RAE, universities are being asked if sub-panels should look at health-related research. "Such a development would address many of the concerns raised," the consultation document states. The funding council is also asking how the sub-panel structure would work and whether the main panels should be reconfigured.
The consultation for health-related research follows a general review of the RAE. In its report last month, it announced reforms intended to make the exercise more transparent and consistent.
A separate working group looking at the RAE's implications for clinical teaching and research will start work in the autumn. It will look at the special pressures on clinical academics who spend about half of their time treating patients.