We all benefit from the Research Assessment Exceriseby Christoph Bluth / May 20, 2000 / Leave a comment
Nobody likes external assessment of professional performance, and academics-who are used to exemption from most of the constraints under which other professionals have to operate and whose performance is difficult to assess-like it the least. But it would be wrong to say that most academics believe that the Research Assessment Exercise is a disaster, as Gordon Marsden implies (Prospect, January). Indeed, for those academics who see research at the boundary of human knowledge as their calling, the RAE is a godsend. I must declare my interests, as I have benefited substantially from the RAE. But for ambitious and research-active academics who are serious both about their subject and their career, the RAE provides opportunities which otherwise would not exist.
The RAE has several advantages. First, it provides a substantial incentive to research. Many academics who would not be active in research at all at least keep up now with the latest literature and publish enough to qualify for submission as “research-active.” There is no doubt that research activity has substantially increased as a consequence of the RAE.
Second, it is especially advantageous for young scholars seeking to establish themselves. A good PhD provides the basis for a book and several articles, thus giving a young scholar a head-start in the first round of the RAE.
Third, the so-called academic “transfer scandal” is especially beneficial to the system. It provides extraordinary rewards for extraordinary achievements. It creates a powerful incentive to produce significant work. What is wrong with freeing outstanding researchers from most administrative and teaching duties, if they make substantial contributions to human knowledge? What is wrong with allowing a transfer market to emerge, which provides incentives for major work which, given the low level of salaries, higher education cannot otherwise offer?
Without the RAE, the lack of reward in academic research and higher education would encourage senior staff who have made their main contribution to settle down into a routine. The demands of teaching and administration would swamp them; and the incentives would be skewed against research. Serious people would go into other careers-or head to the US.
What are the arguments against it? It is said that the RAE encourages shallow research and too much of it. This is wide of the mark. The RAE requires each academic member of staff in a university department to nominate four important publications in a five-year cycle. It should not…