MPs told that v-cs did not sway Brown over RAE

July 14, 2006

Mandarins deny claims that new metrics plan has been rushed in to reduce costs. Anthea Lipsett reports

The Government did not act in haste to replace the research assessment exercise with metrics, the outgoing director-general for higher education at the Department for Education and Skills told MPs this week.

Appearing before the Commons Education and Skills Select Committee on Monday, Sir Alan Wilson denied all knowledge of claims by Barry Sheerman, committee chair, that three vice-chancellors had convinced Gordan Brown that changes were needed fast.

Bristol University, Imperial College London and University College London's vice-chancellors had swayed the Treasury, Mr Sheerman said.

Sir Alan said: "I know nothing of it ever taking place. The policies developed in the budget science paper were a continuation of policies announced in July 2004. We have worked with (the English funding council) all the way through that period in terms of looking at metrics. What we are in now is no more than evolution."

Mr Sheerman accused the Government of swimming against the international tide, with Australia moving from metrics to peer review, and of using metrics to cut costs. But Sir Alan refuted this and said the changes were not a money-saving exercise by the Treasury.

"It's less the money savings, it's the way (the RAE) dominates the time of academics. (Metrics) could lead to greater research productivity," he said.

Sir Alan added that the Chancellor had been committed to increasing the science budget. "I see no evidence in any of the government departments that they want to do anything but sustain a strong research base."

David Eastwood, Higher Education Funding Council for England chief executive from September, said: "The distribution of research funding is across the whole sector. There's nothing in what we're proposing that will disturb that."

Gordon Marsden, Labour MP for Blackpool South, asked whether metrics would be any better than the RAE.

Professor Eastwood said: "We will run a shadow exercise in 2008 to evaluate that. That will give us the opportunity to make modifications if that's appropriate prior to running the new method.

"Academics are at the heart of this but we're trying to find the most efficient way of deriving quality judgments from the data and making sure they're valid."

After Monday's meeting, Mr Sheerman told The Times Higher : "You don't have to believe in plots to see they were vulnerable.

"This is a shift from academics making a decision (under peer review) to bureaucrats (under metrics). They were very defensive about that."

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