The RAE wars
2008 is crunch time for British academics, as the first research assessment exercise (RAE) in seven years gets under way. Since 1986, the RAE has been one of academia’s most crucial measures. This year, it will allocate £1.5bn—a fifth of all governmental higher education funding—to institutions based on a peer-reviewed assessment of research. Things are soon to change, however. By 2006, the system had become so Byzantine and unpopular that the treasury announced a move to a “metrics-based” system. After 2008, it declared, research should be assessed by measurable outcomes—such as how many citations a paper receives—rather than by subjective evaluation.
But this rational ambition has run into troubles. Last year, the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) decided it could assess only scientific subjects on a metrical basis; arts would have to remain peer-reviewed. In February, Hefce’s proposals were heavily criticised by Britain’s seven research councils. Their concerns include the facts that the new system for sciences begins in 2010 while arts don’t start until 2013; that metrics will damage fields that are not publication-rich, like engineering; and that measuring scientific research purely by metrics may discourage academics from taking on public policy work.
Hefce has yet to publish its response. But time is short and passions are running high. In real terms, higher education spending has risen greatly since 1997, yet Labour’s emphasis on delivering value for money has left some concerned that universities are in thrall to market imperatives. Hefce, thus far, has failed to set their minds at ease.
EU doesn’t rule us
One of the most enduring myths about the EU is that it enables meddlesome technocrats to burden us with excessive and pointless rules and regulations. “It is unacceptable that 50 per cent or more of regulations come from the European Union,” thundered Gordon Brown in 2002. But in fact the figure is a lot lower than that. Despite Jacques Delors’s 1988 prediction that 80 per cent of national legislation would come from the EU within ten years, less than 10 per cent of all legislation and regulations passed by the British parliament derives from Brussels, according to the House of Commons library. Furthermore, just 1 per cent of the gross national income of EU member states goes to Brussels—which promptly sends 85 per cent of it back. Eurosceptics will doubtless breathe a heavy sigh of relief.