Scientists call for five-year RAE cycle

March 27, 1998

THE research assessment exercise should be undertaken every five, not four years, says the pressure group Save British Science.

This would give adequate funding stability to help bridge gaps in more short-term grants and would allow more time for new initiatives to be developed.

In its response to the Higher Education Funding Councils' RAE consultation, SBS says the exercise must be based strictly on research quality only, with peer review providing the best and most reliable method of assessment. It proposes the establishment of cross disciplinary panels to assess multi-disciplinary programmes of research.

And it says the percentage of staff entering the exercise should approach 100 per cent if departments are to be awarded top grades. Alternatively where high-quality research is performed by a group within a department, which would otherwise expect a low score overall, the resulting ranking must be linked to the group only.

SBS urges funding councils to publish the assessment criteria and the formula to be used to convert rankings into financial allocations well before the start of the process.

* The Council of Heads of Medical Schools has told the RAE consultation that the units of assessment for medicine are large relative to other subjects, more diverse in nature and involve the allocation of sums of money much larger than in most areas.

The council says that the RAE can thus lead to great shifts in resources, with the risk of short-term destabilisation in medical research strategy and the delivery of medical education.

Its submission stresses that the RAE process should reflect the way medical research is conducted in universities, adding that it is "vital for the health and strength of medical science and education" that the configuration of assessment units, being considered by the Higher Education Funding Council for England and a Department of Health task force, is right. But the council stops short of suggesting how this should be done. It says it would prefer a single RAE exercise every five years.

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