Editor's Choice

Where next for the research assessment exercise?

BMJ 2006; 332 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.332.7548.0-f (Published 27 April 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;332:0-f
  1. Fiona Godlee (fgodlee{at}bmj.com), editor

    The rules for deciding who gets public money for research in the United Kingdom are set to change. The world's largest research assessment exercise (RAE)—which has dominated the lives of UK academics for the past 20 years—is to be ditched after the next round in 2008, and consultation begins next month to find an alternative. This week's BMJ carries the first of a series of contributions debating the future of research assessment in the UK and around the world.

    Many will welcome an end to the tyranny of the RAE. It has clearly succeeded in concentrating funds within selected high performing institutions, which was the government's aim, but at a high cost, say its critics. The cost includes distorting the research agenda by favouring pure science over applied or practice based research and encouraging safe, mainstream research that will deliver publications within a few years. Riskier, longer term research, research in small fields, and multidisciplinary research are disadvantaged, as are academics who teach rather than do research. Eric Thomas, vice chancellor of the University of Bristol, quoted in this week's News, says that the system causes “massive planning blight” for 18 months either side of each assessment (p 994). Others complain that it has created a football-style transfer market, with institutions buying in research stars on inflated salaries.

    Richard Hobbs and Paul Stewart are more upbeat about it (p 983). The cost is justified, they say, by the improvement in quality of research in the UK, and reforms to the system have addressed many of the criticisms. However much they are improved by these reforms, the RAE and other systems for allocating research funding around the world must take the blame for the neglect of basic clinical research highlighted by Peter Rothwell two weeks ago (15 April, p 864-5). Roger Jones takes up the baton in a letter this week, calling for better funding for primary care and health services research (p 1036). With a dig at non-clinical researchers, he writes, “Translational (research) doesn't just mean getting the protein out of the test tube and into the zebra fish, but getting the therapeutic intervention into the patient and the population.”

    How do you think we should rate research? We would like your answers, as rapid responses via bmj.com.

    And there are other questions in this week's journal. Should we screen for depression?—which in the UK means, should general practitioners be rewarded for screening for depression as part of the quality and outcomes framework (p 1027)? Is it possible to predict which students will struggle at medical school (p 1009)? And will Tony Blair's gamble on further healthcare reforms destroy him before it destroys the “old monolithic NHS” he so deplores (p 984)?

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