UNIVERSITIES are facing a crisis of peer review according to Southampton vice chancellor Howard Newby, who this week publicly criticised the top-down style of scientific management emerging in higher education.
Professor Newby warned that traditional peer review, where academics assess each other's work, was "unable to bear the burden thrust upon it" by the escalation in research proposals and dwindling grants.
"This has produced a crisis of peer review," he told a gathering of the European Association for Institutional Research, at Warwick University.
He said there was an urgent need to eliminate the weakness in the peer review process.
"Much more rigorous comparative research needs to be undertaken on defining and analysing the costs and benefits of scientific activity," he said. "We will need to establish the rates of return on science if we are to convince governments that science should be regarded as an investment rather than a form of expenditure on a cultural good."
There now existed not only a problem concerning the public understanding of science but of the scientists understanding of the public, Professor Newby said. Links needed to be established with the users of science, such as business, which recognised their legitimate concerns without tying the activities of the scientific community to a "sterile agenda" of applied work.
Collaborative activity across Europe also needed to shed the lowest common denominator image he added.
Referring to the "disconcerting trend" towards increasing top-down scientific management Professor Newby said the style had been adopted from manufacturing industry and was inappropriate in knowledge-based industries.