Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60 - 64)



  60. I think scientists around this table, me included, probably would take issue with that. Can I touch again on Professor Susan Bassnett's comment; she goes on to say: "What the high scores represent is Academics' Revenge: faced with quantifying the unquantifiable, they have gone round handing out top scores all over the place. If we have another RAE, every department in the country will get a 5*." Does that ring true to you? I suspect not.
  (Mr Bekhradnia) No, absolutely not. I am really disappointed and sorry to hear that comment from so distinguished a person. We have evidence, and it is referred to, and it is irrefutable, I think, that, in the eyes of the rest of the world, UK science has improved very substantially between 1996 and 2001. It is not an artefact, it is a reality. Other scientists around the world are citing our research more than they did, comparative to each other; it is a comparative improvement I am talking about here, and it is one which is broadly commensurate with the degree of improvement that has been identified in the RAE. We created international corresponding panels, to whom the panels were obliged to refer their proposed ratings, and in all but a handful of those cases they confirmed the ratings that were being proposed. So I do think it is wrong and it is potentially damaging, and I do hope that this Committee will not be persuaded that it is simply an artefact; this improvement is real, and I think that we should celebrate it, not try to denigrate it.

  61. I just wanted to finish, if I may, briefly, Chairman, with a question on your calculation of the costs of RAE 1996, which you calculated to be between £27 million and £37 million. I was just wondering how you came to that figure?
  (Mr Rushforth) That was based on some detailed work of predominantly opportunity costs, done at a number of institutions, to try to identify, by interview and by sometimes sheet analysis, the time people had spent in preparing, submitting, and all the rest of it, and then modelled up to cover the rest of the sector. So it is, as best we can, an estimate of the time, particularly, that institution staff have spent.
  (Mr Bekhradnia) To which we added the direct costs that we knew about, of course, because we incurred them.

  62. Yes; sure. But the majority of it was—you referred to as—an opportunity cost?
  (Mr Rushforth) Opportunity costs, yes.


  63. Can I say, some of us will be visiting our local universities, to do something equivalent to this, so we get it right from the coalface, as it were, and we will hear it directly. But can I say to you, for all the effort that has been put in, the money that has been shelled out, and so on, and the problems that people have felt, in meeting all these increasing standards, what do you feel has been the reaction, in terms of putting in resources to follow all that effort; good, bad? On a scale of 1 to 10, where would you put it, in terms of the reaction; has it been worth all the effort, as far as the people there, who have moved their grades up, do they see more resources? Because when we meet people and talk to them it does not feel that way. And what have you done, and what are you going to do, about that?
  (Mr Bekhradnia) We discussed the representations that have taken place between us and the Government about funding. There has been a substantial injection of funds into research, over the last few years, from the Government, but it has tended to be all on the capital side, on the infrastructure side; and welcome, as I said, and very necessary. I think what is wanted now, what is needed now, is to recognise the recurrent implications of all this, we need something equivalent on the recurrent side. I think we will have to see what follows, in the Comprehensive Spending Review, from that.

  64. Thank you very much, Mr Bekhradnia, and Mr Rogers and Mr Rushforth. Thank you very much indeed. I am sorry we have taken a bit longer than anticipated, but you can tell there are strong passions round here.
  (Mr Bekhradnia) I am sure there are.

  Chairman: Thank you very much for giving up your time and giving us the evidence. Thank you.

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