Select Committee on Science and Technology Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by The Institute of Mathematics and its Applications

  1.   The Institute believes firmly in the value of high quality research in Mathematics for a number of reasons including:

    (a)  its contribution to UK competitiveness, and,

    (b)  its positive effect on teaching, and by this means, to the quality of graduates entering the employment market or seeking research training.

  2.  The results of the latest Research Assessment Exercise were published in December and in Mathematics the number of higher grades awarded was appreciably higher than in 1996. For example, some 35 departments achieved higher gradings in Applied Mathematics in the 2001 Exercise. There is no doubt that the existence of the RAE has served to drive up the quality and quantity of research in Mathematics and its applications in the UK.

  3.  Investment by individual departments in achieving improved gradings has often been significant and was made on the understanding that improved grades would lead to increased funding. The Institute believes that the credibility of UK research policy-makers would be adversely affected if this anticipation was not met. If research in Mathematics in the UK is to maintain or improve its world-class standing then adequate funding must be available for the highest-rated departments to maintain their position, whilst at the same time, allowing continuing improvement by the others.

  4.  The Institute notes with grave concern suggestions that funding for departments graded 3 should be reduced. Often such departments, for historic reasons, started from a much lower base line for research funding, and yet have made major improvements in their output. In view of the grading process, it is likely that within these departments there are some staff producing internationally competitive research, and on whom further improvement might be based. The Institute firmly believes that achievement should be recognised and funded appropriately wherever it is detected. In the Institute's view failure to do this could have long-term detrimental effects on regional economies as well as damaging confidence in the policy-makers.

  5.  As with teaching quality assessment, preparation and planning for the RAE is demanding on staff time, sometimes to the extent that what is being assessed is adversely affected by the assessment process. The Institute is concerned also that the demands on staff time have a detrimental effect on its own work. University staff are finding it increasingly difficult to contribute to the leadership of their profession through the Institute's activities.

  6.  The research assessment process has been shown to be valuable, but the Institute, in common with others believes that full assessments should take place every 10-12 years. In proposing a longer cycle, the Institute feels that departments would benefit from a greater degree of stability in their planning. This is of particular importance in the development of replacement staffing policy given the age profile of staff in many mathematics departments.

  7.  If the proposal for a longer interval between full assessments is accepted, then the Institute believes that developing departments should be able to improve their ratings between full assessments. The introduction of a procedure for this could serve as a valuable incentive, serving to further increase the strength of UK research in mathematics without over-frequent upheaval.

January 2002

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