Research model looks to the future

November 22, 2002

Researchers could get funding council cash for future plans rather than being rewarded for work they have completed under proposals to reform the research assessment exercise.

Sir Gareth Roberts, president of Wolfson College, Oxford, is chairing the committee to devise a better form of research assessment. He said: "There is one model that is emerging that is a contender to the existing RAE.

"This model is like the core-plus model, where a core of money is awarded in a very light-touch way, based perhaps on the previous allocation or other well-researched metrics. The plus would be where a university identified its centres of excellence, looking forward to where it would like to go. This would be light touch because every university would have to have a good strategy in place and it would be relatively easy to have a bidding process."

Such a model would fit well with the English funding council's strategic plan to create a core-plus model for its funding of higher education. It envisages four core activities that each university does and that some universities specialise in. They are: teaching, research, business and the community, and widening participation.

The funding model for research would also mimic that of the research councils, which allocate cash after peer reviewing proposals for specific projects.

Sir Gareth said that peer review was seen as essential to the assessment of research quality and should be within an international context.

He is also considering whether different subjects could be assessed in different ways and in different years.

Another proposal is to reduce the number of units of assessment. The current 65 units make the potential overlaps between subjects vast (the number would be written as 5 with 39 zeros after it). This is a problem when people are interested in working at the interfaces.

Final proposals will be drafted for consultation next month.

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