Post-92s slam 'very biased' RAE successor

October 6, 2006

New universities rejected the Government's proposals to replace the research assessment exercise this week, claiming that the metrics models put forward would damage new researchers and emerging research areas.

Campaigning for Mainstream Universities, the lobby group for post-92 institutions, joined the research-led Russell Group and 1994 Group of universities in opposing plans to use metrics, instead of the peer-reviewed RAE, for judging research quality.

Under the metrics models, the Government would allocate billions of pounds in block grants for research based on the amount of research income university departments previously earned from research council grants and other research contracts.

CMU said this definition was too narrow, adding that a broader one of research quality that considers the link between research, innovation, teaching, "transdisciplinary approaches" and regional economic regeneration was required.

It warned that metrics plans were "very biased" against new researchers and new research subject areas and worked in favour of established research centres.

In its response to the consultation on the Government's proposals, CMU said that a new, separate stream of research funding should be used to provide support for buildings, facilities and younger researchers in newer universities, which tend to lose out under the RAE as funding is channelled into older, more research-intensive institutions. This could be top sliced from the quality-related (QR) funding distributed on the basis of the RAE results.

Les Ebdon, vice-chancellor of Bedfordshire University, said new universities trained research staff only to see them poached by research-led universities. He added: "[A separate funding stream] would start to address very serious problems we have now, and which will get progressively worse in future, with the highly selective nature of funding. We're talking about safeguarding the UK's research potential.

"New universities get virtually no QR or 'free' money to support younger researchers. When their careers start to blossom they are picked up in the transfer market. I don't mind generating the next cohort of researchers but I can't do it with no support whatsoever," Professor Ebdon said. "If we're going to have an active transfer system, we need to look at what's going on in the nurseries."

He said that CMU institutions felt the RAE process fossilised research fields back at a time when the system was first established. "An area such as media is worth a huge amount to UK plc and that's not reflected in funding through the RAE," he said.

Pam Tatlow, CMU chief executive, said a separate funding stream for infrastructure would help the Government meet its objectives.

Call to nurture new talent

The Alliance of Non-Aligned Universities will emphasise the need to nurture new and interdisciplinary research and sustain the supply chain of future researchers in its response to the Government's consultation on replacing the research assessment exercise.

The 2008 RAE should go ahead as planned, said the alliance, with any new system recognising the economic impact of research that fosters innovation and enterprise, members say. Excellence should also be supported wherever it is found.

Paul Curran, the vice-chancellor of Bournemouth University, one of the alliance's founding members, said: "We don't want parts of universities that do world-leading research to miss out on funding because they are swamped by the institutional average, and metrics operate at an institutional level.

"We want the outcome of the 2008 RAE to inform funding for quite a few years, so that gives us time to get this right. We have to move to metrics but the model must have the sector's confidence."

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