Medicopolitical Digest

Medical academic staff conferenceSenior staffs conference

BMJ 1997; 314 doi: (Published 14 June 1997) Cite this as: BMJ 1997;314:1767

Medical academic staff conference

Research assessment is damaging medical teaching

Representatives of Britain's medical academic staff reiterated their criticism of the research assessment exercise at their annual conference last week. They believe that it is having “deleterious effects” on clinical academics, undergraduate teaching, and the NHS.

The exercise by the Higher Education Funding Council for England takes place every four years and is intended to measure the quality of research across all higher education.

The assessment is based on peer review, including examination of published research and information about numbers of research students and research income during the assessment period. Institutions are graded 1 to 5 and the results are used to determine government research funding levels. The council's chief executive, Professor Brian Fender, told the meeting that in 1992, 348 departments had scored 5; this figure had risen to 573 in 1996.

The BMA's Medical Academic Staff Committee has already expressed its concern that the financial pressures forcing universities to obtain high scores in the exercise are leading to increased emphasis on research at the expense of teaching and service work (31 May, p 1628).

Shedding Staff

The MASC's chairman, Dr Colin Smith, told the conference last week that clinical posts were being changed to non-clinical posts and some schools were shedding staff. “There is no reason,” he said, “why we should not follow the models of McMaster and Harvard, where teaching is as important as research.”

He thought it strange that although no medical school scored lower than 3 so many were in financial difficulties. He said that one or two places had promoted staff partly on the basis of their teaching record and the meeting supported a motion from his medical school (Southampton) that “excellence in teaching is as important for academic employment and promotion as excellence in research.” Dr Smith said that Southampton had set up a teaching …

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