Select Committee on Science and Technology Second Report


The Science and Technology Committee has agreed to the following Report:



1. The announcement of the results of the 2001 Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) caused a furore among the higher education community. The results showed widespread and significant improvement in research quality. 40% of departments submitted were awarded 5 or 5*, the highest ratings: 55% of researchers submitted now work in these departments. Yet it appeared that there was to be no extra funding to reward these improvements. Academic departments had put in enormous effort and extensive investment to improve their ratings, yet most would see little benefit and some would lose money despite maintaining their performance. Some universities appeared to face a financial crisis.

2. We decided to undertake a short inquiry into the RAE, since we were concerned about its implications for the long-term health of the UK's science base. Our intention was to consider whether the RAE results represented a real improvement in research performance, and to establish the best way forward and alternative strategies for allocating higher education research funding. Higher education is a responsibility of the Department for Education and Skills, yet maintaining and developing excellence in UK science, engineering and technology is a key role of the Office of Science and Technology, and central to our own remit.

3. We have received 49 items of written evidence from individuals and organisation. We held two oral evidence sessions, with the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and the Association of University Teachers (AUT), and with Universities UK and Margaret Hodge MP, Minister of State for Lifelong Learning and Higher Education at the Department for Education and Skills (DfES). Members of the Committee also made informal visits to universities in their constituency areas. We are grateful to all those who have assisted with the inquiry, in particular to our Specialist Adviser, Professor Michael Elves, formerly Director of the Office of Scientific and Educational Affairs, Glaxo Wellcome plc.

4. In this report we set out the findings of our inquiry. We explain the background to the 2001 RAE, how it operated, how it will be funded, the criticisms there have been of it, and its effect on research and higher education more generally. We hope this report will inform the House, influence Ministers in their conduct of the Spending Review and provide input to the Higher Education Funding Councils' review of the RAE.

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