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


Memorandum submitted by the British Medical Association's Medical Academic Staff Committee (MASC)

  The Committee notes that there has been a general uplift in the gradings awarded to medicine in the 2001 RAE, although the relativities of rank have remained virtually constant. It is not certain whether there has been an increase in standards overall, or whether the assessors have better understood the system; however it is acknowledged that 5 and 5* departments are refereed by international monitors, which, it is felt, provide a suitable measure of objectivity. The achievement of higher scores by increasing numbers of institutions is welcome in that it leads to a wider distribution of monies; incentives must however be maintained. We are concerned that the overall amount of money available has not increased, so the increase in 5 and 5* ratings means that less money is available for three or four rated departments. This "ceiling effect" keeps the exercise punitive rather than rewarding all those who improve their position.

  More generally, the exercise continues to distort reward systems within universities and medical schools, often leading to disparagement of dedicated teachers. The argument that a quality-sensitive teaching allocation would be potentially be more de-stabilising to HEIs than the research allocation is unsustainable and a vigorous debate on rewarding teaching excellence, both institutionally and personally, is long overdue.

  The scores in clinical and community subjects have shown a marked improvement suggesting that the RAE at last is focussing on the needs and interests within these subjects. However, this raises the important issue of the continued conflict between what the RAE and the NHS demand from research. The NHS is less interested in research that does not have an immediate effect on patient management or throughput and service efficiency. The RAE works against applied research, especially in clinical areas where there is niche interest for example orthopaedics. Surgical and related areas suffer most, where there is a general move away from surgically related studies towards research into molecular and cell biology.

  There remain concerns about the overall cost of the RAE. Such money expended on the process could perhaps better be directed towards new research rather than assessing research that has already been subject to peer review.

  We observed that the number of returns in the 2001 RAE varied enormously between schools, with a return rate showing between 50 per cent-95 per cent of total staff being research-active, a phenomenon which we believe might tend to skew results. Compared to the previous round, there has been significant change in the numbers of research-active returnees.

  Pressure to publish in certain journals has distorted the dissemination of much research, especially in instances where results are published in Journals which are not read by the practitioners within a narrow spectrum or discipline. Proportions of national and international papers act as absolute hurdles to higher ratings whilst allowing and even encouraging manipulation and selection of RAE returnees.

  It is also likely that the RAE continues to militate against "blue skies" research, with success depending on becoming part of existing successful projects rather than establishing new lines of inquiry. It is now considerably more difficult to raise money for research projects that are outside the RAE or which are in fields outside the thrust of mainline research.

January 2002

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