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


Memorandum submitted by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)


    —  The RAE attempts to assess research quality and is then used to drive funding allocations.

    —  The indications are that successive RAEs have had the effect of improving the quality and management of university research but we believe their value is now diminishing.

    —  Since performance metrics can condition behaviour it is critically important that the metrics are appropriately chosen to trigger the outcomes desired; it seems to us that not all behaviours we observe—and attribute in part at least to the RAE—are in fact desirable.

    —  In particular, we have seen continually increasing demand for EPSRC research grants—from a wider cross-section of the academic community—now grossly exceeding the funds available. We believe this may in part be attributed to the role of grant capture in the RAE and the importance to the universities of the level and flexibility of application of the QR funding stream associated with the RAE results. Yet the mismatch between applications and EPSRC grant funds available is now so severe that it results in much wasted effort for academic researchers in generating and assessing many more research proposals than can be funded. To this extent at least the RAE in its present form is perhaps becoming counter productive.

    —  In the past we expressed particular concern that the RAE tended to reinforce disciplinarity (because assessments are made by discipline-based Panels) at a time when encouragement of multidisciplinary (or interdisciplinary) research is recognised as of particular important. Steps have been taken to handle interdisciplinary submissions but our observers report differently from the various panels on how effective this has proved. We conclude that multidisciplinary research may not have been dealt with uniformly across the RAE; if true this is a concern.

    —  The Panels were felt to have undertaken their work with exemplary honesty and diligence but we observe that the assessment remains fundamentally one predominantly by academics. It seems to us that there remain too few active industrialists on the Panels and the impression gained is that as a consequence industrially-relevant, applied work has perhaps not always been well-handled.

    —  We comment that the involvement of international expertise is limited so the thoroughness of the international calibration could be questioned.


    —  The RAE is a very substantial exercise; it's future will need careful consideration in the light of the findings of the transparency review.

    —  Given the general level of "grade improvement" that has occurred it seems to us that other, less burdensome, arrangements might now be adopted for channelling these research funds to the universities—perhaps by linking the funding more directly to the "normal business" peer review processes and decisions of the Research Councils and similar bodies.

January 2002

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