Peer review: where to now?

January 16, 1998

The main concern of the National Postgraduate Committee is that postgraduates should study in a high-quality research environment with other active researchers. Obviously, a well-managed peer-review system can provide considerable diversity in research topics and approaches; the academic freedom and autonomy implied by the process should produce exciting research opportunities.

But we have two concerns about the use of peer review for the award of research grants.

First, it should not become an "old boys' network"; if it does, the system could ossify and suppress the development of postgraduate study and research in new fields, in addition to restricting access to potential research students.

Experience suggests that those who have had high levels of research activity for the longest do not necessarily provide better training and support to postgraduates than relative newcomers.

Second, assessment of departments on existing research and publications may put pressure on research students to publish; this may be a distraction from the production of a thesis.

Publishing papers is a valuable part of research training, but students should be free to decide what to publish and when.

John Gray, Chair, National Postgraduate Committee

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