Intended for healthcare professionals


How should we rate research?

BMJ 2006; 332 doi: (Published 27 April 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;332:983
  1. F D Richard Hobbs (, professor,
  2. Paul M Stewart, professor
  1. Department of Primary Care and General Practice, University of Birmingham, Birmingham B15 2TT
  2. Department of Medicine, University of Birmingham

    The UK's current system can be improved but shouldn't be discarded

    Last month the UK chancellor, Gordon Brown, announced in his annual budget speech that the government intends to simplify the way it funds academic research. Pending a consultation exercise through 2006, the government wishes to replace the United Kingdom's unique research assessment exercise (RAE).1 The most radical proposal is to scrap peer assessment of the quality of each university's research, a cornerstone of the exercise, and to introduce assessment based mainly on metrics—effectively performance indicators.

    Possible metrics include research income, publications, citations, and numbers of research students, all of which correlated well with scores achieved in previous exercises.1 Preparations for RAE2008 are well underway and will proceed as planned, but the exercise will now incorporate a shadow system, using metrics alongside the panel based peer review system. It is now entirely possible that the allocation of research funding after 2008 will be based on metrics assessment rather than the historical peer review exercise.1

    Coordinated by the UK's higher education funding councils, RAE2008 will be the sixth national peer evaluation of the quality of research conducted by higher education institutions.2 The exercise assesses the outputs of research by academic staff in higher education institutions. The rating for each institution is converted to a multiplication factor—which, alongside factors controlling the volume of research (such as staff numbers, numbers of research students, and peer reviewed grant expenditure), determines how much quality adjusted research funding the government gives to that institution. Along with money allocated for teaching, this …

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