The first Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) was undertaken in 1986 and five further exercises have taken place since then. The RAE introduced a formalised assessment of British research and is thought to have improved its quality and impact. However there is now a consensus that the RAE in its present form has served its purpose. It is hoped that the new system, the Research Excellence Framework (REF), will be a less onerous process for universities but will still be able to identify and fund quality research. In the future there will be distinct systems for the sciences and for other subjects.
At a recent conference, the Higher Education Funding Council (Hefce) has outlined its proposed methods of assessment which will determine the allocations of £1.6 billion research funding from 2014.
Contrary to earlier thinking, citation analysis – a measurement of the number of times a work is cited by a peer – is to play a lesser role in the future. Graeme Rosenberg, Hefce’s REF project manager said ” We just don’t think bibliometrics (a set of methods used to measure the impact of research papers) are sufficiently mature at this stage to be used in a formulaic way or, indeed to replace peer review” . Hefce will draw up a list of subjects for which citation analysis is appropriate. They have listened to the criticisms of engineering academics who think that the Web of Science – the database which Hefce was planning to use – has a patchy coverage in engineering. Citation analysis can be a blunt instrument for measuring engineering research because it is not always possible to publish papers in this field quickly if the work has been done for companies who wish to protect their intellectual property. Any defence work is confidential and cannot fit into a metrics system.
The Hefce proposals have not yet been finalised , they will be considered by its board later on this year.