Royal Society warns bureaucracy is hampering British scientists

University scientists will remain overloaded with administrative work despite proposed changes to the method of assessing the quality of research they carry out, according to a report published today (19 May 2004) by the Royal Society.

In its submission to an inquiry into the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, the Royal Society backs new plans to review every six years the quality of research in each university. But the Society warns that the assessment process must be further simplified after the next RAE in 2008.

Lord May of Oxford, President of the Royal Society, said: “Whilst the Government must account for the public money invested in scientific research, researchers must be allowed to focus on pushing back the frontiers of knowledge, rather than filling in reams of paperwork. The new arrangements for assessing the quality of research in 2008 have been improved, but the system will need to be simplified further to stop unduly onerous administrative burdens from stifling the creativity of our researchers. Otherwise university departments will not just be run by administrators, they will be overrun by them.”

The publication of the Society’s submission coincides with the appearance today (19 May 2004) of the President of the Royal Society, Lord May of Oxford, in front of the Committee to give oral evidence to the inquiry.

The Society also welcomes moves by the Higher Education Funding Councils to produce research profiles for each university department in the RAE, to reduce ‘game-playing’ by universities in response to the competition for grades that determine research funding.

But the Society warns that the 2008 RAE will still fail to assess properly areas of multidisciplinary research that covers more than one subject, and collaborations by researchers at more than one institution.

The Society also endorses moves to include more people from commerce, industry and public service on the panels that assess the quality of university research, to ensure that the value of applied work is fully recognised.

The new arrangements should also decrease the incentive for universities to employ staff who can immediately contribute to RAE scores, and reduce the perceived disadvantages of employing researchers who work part-time or who have had career breaks.

For further information contact:
Bob Ward
Press Office
Royal Society
tel: 020 7451 2516 or 07811 320346

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