Principal defends RAE

September 10, 1999

The research assessment exercise's selective funding is an

inevitable consequence of technological advance rather than being elitist and unfair, according to Edinburgh University's principal, Sir Stewart Sutherland.

Speaking at the 12th international meeting of university administrators held in Edinburgh and Stirling this week, Sir

Stewart said scientific research was beginning to be organised in radically different ways. The RAE was a means of ensuring that cash went to a select number of centres based on performance indicators.

"The cost of big science is horrendous. Technological change is driving us inevitably in that

direction," he said.

But Sir Stewart said selective channelling of funds must be accompanied by further innovation in how institutions operated. Almost all government funding was competitive, which meant the incentive for institutions was not to collaborate but to get as big a slice of the cake as they could.

"We all do it. But looked at rationally, it is bizarre that we compete in a way that persuades the funding councils to cut this cake into smaller slices," he said.

"It's not the way to produce high-quality science. Couldn't we have - revolutionary thought - staff contracts so that you teach in one institution but have your research base in another?" Sir Stewart suggested.

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