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Medicopolitical Digest

Medical academic staffs conferenceSenior staffs conferenceGP non-principals have special education needsBMA's ARM agenda

BMJ 1998; 316 doi: (Published 13 June 1998) Cite this as: BMJ 1998;316:1834
  1. Linda Beecham, Medicopolitical digest

    Medical academic staffs conference

    Academics call for a fairer research assessment

    Medical academic staff have called for the research assessment exercise (RAE) to be fairer and more representative. At their annual conference last week the representatives declared that the use of impact factors was a totally inappropriate method of assessing medical research and called on the BMA to examine fairer alternative methods.

    The RAE takes place every four years, and its aim is to measure the quality of research across all higher education and determine central funding for academic units in Britain. 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.

    The Medical Academic Staff Committee has criticised the exercise since its inception because of emphasis on research at the expense of teaching and service work. The 1997 Dearing report into higher education recommended a review of the exercise and the Higher Education Funding Council for England has set up a task force.

    Unscientific and unjust

    Last week's meeting wholeheartedly endorsed Professor Gareth Williams's forthright account of why he believes the RAE is unscientific and unjust. Professor Williams, professor of medicine at the University of Liverpool, published his views in April (4 April, pp 1079-82).

    He told the conference that the RAE had acquired such a momentum that it was almost impossible to stop. He said that it was wasteful of time and money; the data were misleading and unscientific; and the conclusions were biased and unjust. It ignored people who were not funded by the higher education funding councils and ignored total published output. There was potential for abuse—for example, a researcher's publications at one unit are transferred with the researcher to a new post and staff funded by councils were used to submit publications from ineligible researchers. Professor Williams said that the system was totally …

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