Poll finds 81% pan switch to metrics

October 6, 2006

University and College Union uncovers little confidence in the Government's RAE replacement. Phil Baty reports

More than eight out of ten academics oppose the Government's plans to replace the research assessment exercise with a metrics-based system to measure research quality and allocate billions of pounds in block grants.

A survey by the University and College Union to be published next week shows that 81 per cent of academics reject metrics - which would allocate research funding to university departments based on the number and size of individual research grants they had won from funding councils and other contracts.

The survey, which had more than 1,500 respondents, represents another blow to the Government, whose proposals have been roundly rejected by most vice-chancellors.

Although the UCU campaigned vigorously against the RAE - in which expert panels review the quality of research in every university - its survey showed strong support for a continuation of some form of peer review.

Sally Hunt, the UCU's joint general secretary, said: "The UCU has been a long-term opponent of the RAE and was delighted when, earlier this year, the decision was announced to scrap it. In the summer, we launched a wide-ranging consultation exercise to ensure that the voices of the people who will be most affected by any changes are heard.

"We do not believe the debate should be rushed or narrowed. We must take the necessary time to find a decent workable replacement. Our evidence has found that 81 per cent of respondents do not support the Government's metrics approach. There is a real need for the Department for Education and Skills and the funding councils to return to the drawing board.

"If the new format is to have any legitimacy, it must command the consent of the entire sector. We are happy to hand over our findings to the Government, but we demand that it allow a full public debate on the future of university research."

The survey, which is to be released in full on October 12 at a special UCU conference on the future of research assessment, is understood to show very weak support for the Government's proposed system of using the number and size of research grants already won as the basis for allocating block funding.

There was slightly more support for a system based on the number of times research was cited by other academics, and the number of times work is published in top refereed journals. Some 14 per cent preferred this model.

But more than half the respondents, 57 per cent, supported a form of peer review.

The UCU has yet to come up with an alternative for research assessment. It plans to discuss the basis of an alternative approach at next Thursday's conference.

phil.baty@thes.co.uk

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