Joint Funding Councils’ Review of Research Assessment Response from the Queen Margaret University College Queen Margaret University College welcomes the opportunity to respond to the initial consultation from the Joint Funding Bodies‟ Review of Research Assessment The RAE has had a very positive effect on our institution, providing an accelerating influence on research in a number of areas. It has also encouraged staff to develop a research culture in the institution and helped to frame the corporate research strategy. In collating comments from across the institution to this consultation paper, staff have expressed a number of concerns which may contribute to the current debate on the future of research assessment: Please find comments below: If research quality is to remain the basis of the assessment, for some areas (e.g. Allied Health Professions, Tourism, Nursing, etc) it should be defined by reference to the usability or relevance of the research. This is particularly important in some professional subjects such as nursing where the impact of research on clinical practice is perhaps of more importance than standard publication in a peer reviewed journal. The assessment of usability in these cases needs to involve the development of suitable metrics such as those evaluating actual clinical applicability. The current form of research assessment often does not reward emerging areas that may be high priority, strategically important areas both nationally and internationally. A recent report from HEFCE (01/63 on their website) identified „an urgent need for a national effort to develop research in areas related to Allied Health Professions which is of direct relevance and benefit to the NHS‟. However most of the research in this area is in its infancy and scores low RAE ratings at present. The RAE system and the funding that accompanies it does not encourage or promote this research although this would clearly be warranted in terms of its high strategic importance. Some mechanism must be found to promote research in emerging areas new to the RAE game. The current research assessment and funding mechanism may lead to a „two-tier‟ system comprising „teaching institutions‟ and „research institutions‟. At present it is difficult for many institutions to re-orientate themselves from one type to another (i.e. most of the money ends up in the already well established institutions with 5 and 5* departments) and it is difficult for staff in predominantly teaching establishments to gain grants and undertake research because of the relatively low level of resource for research infrastructure. When this situation is linked to the widening access agenda, certain further potential problems arise; first, the teaching institutions may find it more difficult to incorporate research evidence and direct experience into teaching (something the TQA was always keen on), second, students from „non-traditional‟ backgrounds are likely to have less exposure to research expertise and hence (arguably) an impoverished educational experience. The „game playing‟ that goes on in the current RAE may have a distorting effect on institutional structures and educational structures. In order to maximise their research potential, institutions are increasingly re-organising (very expensive processes involving public money) and often cutting non- RAE productive disciplines and departments. In the longer term this could well lead to a narrowing of educational expertise within the country. We believe the assessment should involve a more „holistic‟ approach where the work of all members of the Department are evaluated and additional aspects such as the impact of research on teaching and the training of research staff and students are taken into account in an overall assessment. With reference to alternative models for research assessment we are in favour of replacing the current rather bureaucratic and inflexible RAE with a “core plus” model. A core component would be calculated for Institutions on a formulaic basis according to a set of metrics. We feel that the metrics should vary with the different subjects and could be devised by experts in the respective fields. The RAE panels for the 2001 exercise could have a useful input into this process. Devising appropriate metrics will be a major challenge but we suggest an appropriate set should include at least the following: Measures of reputation of researchers (based for example, on peer surveys) Measures of usability of research (particularly important for professional areas) based on surveys of professionals and practitioners benefiting from the research. External research income per staffing costs as an index of “value for money”. (but need to differentiate here between the different sources of research income e.g. gifts from donors compared to Research Council grants). Research student completions per member of staff. The “plus” element of the assessment would be based on institutions‟ own strategic plans for research which would be subject to suitable periodic external audit. They may include plans for Centres of Excellence. The Centres of Excellence could be cross-institutional, multidisciplinary, involve links with industry and the community etc. Institutions would have to demonstrate sustainability, critical mass, strategic importance etc in their plans for centres. Evaluation of the centres could involve visits from international experts over a period of time.