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4 July 2006

HEFCE and AHRC announce expert group on research metrics

The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) today announced that they are jointly setting up an expert group to advise them on the potential for using 'metrics' - quantitative information about research activity and its outcomes - to inform both the assessment of research quality and the allocation of funding for research.

The group, chaired by Professor Michael Worton, Vice-Provost of University College London, has been set up to help carry forward the proposals set out in a recent government consultation paper (see note 1). Proposals include making greater use of metrics in:

  • assessment of research quality
  • benchmarking against international levels of excellence
  • allocating HEFCE's research grant, after the next Research Assessment Exercise is concluded in 2008.

The group's remit is to advise HEFCE and AHRC on what metrics-based approaches are possible now for these purposes, or might become possible in the next few years, and on practical issues that will arise in putting such approaches into practice. The members of the group include leading researchers in arts and humanities disciplines. The group has been asked to report to HEFCE and AHRC by the middle of October 2006, to inform their further work following the government consultation.

Professor David Eastwood, who has been appointed as the HEFCE Chief Executive with effect from 1 September 2006, said:

'Developing appropriate metrics for research assessment and funding will be a major task for HEFCE over the coming year. We recognise that more work is needed to develop robust and effective metrics-based approaches for arts and humanities disciplines in particular, and the expert group will play a key role in helping us to take this forward.'

Professor Philip Esler, Chief Executive of the AHRC, said:

'AHRC has a remit to support high quality research in the arts and humanities. We are pleased to have this opportunity to work with HEFCE to develop better indicators for research quality in these disciplines, and we attach particular importance to taking the considered advice of research practitioners on this.'

Ends

For further information contact the following HEFCE and AHRC press contacts:

HEFCE: Philip Walker, Corporate Communications, p.walker@hefce.ac.uk, tel 0117 931 7363

AHRC: Jake Gilmore, AHRC Press and Public Affairs Officer, j.gilmore@ahrc.ac.uk, tel 0117 987 6773.

Notes to editors

1. The Government's consultation paper 'Reform of Higher Education Research Assessment and Funding' was published on 13 June and replies are invited by 13 October. The policy to make increased use of 'metrics' in research assessment and funding was set out in the policy statement, 'Science and Innovation Investment Framework 2004-14: next steps' [Adobe PDF] published on 26 March 2006. The Government has indicated that it will make a further statement by the end of the year.

2. The Higher Education Funding Council for England distributes public money to universities and colleges in England that provide higher education. HEFCE's funding for research is distributed selectively to HEIs that have demonstrated the quality of their research by reference to national and international standards. In 2006-07 HEFCE will distribute 1,342 million for research.

3. Each year the Arts and Humanities Research Council provides approximately 80 million to support research and postgraduate study in the arts and humanities, from archaeology and English literature to design and dance. In any one year, the AHRC makes approximately 700 research awards and around 1,500 postgraduate awards. Awards are made after a rigorous peer review process, to ensure that only applications of the highest quality are funded. Arts and humanities researchers constitute nearly a quarter of all research-active staff in the higher education sector. The quality and range of research supported not only provides social and cultural benefits but also contributes to the economic success of the UK.

Members of the expert group are:

Chair Professor Michael Worton (University College London)
Ex Officio Members Professor Tony McEnery (Director of Research, AHRC)
Paul Hubbard (Head of Research Policy, HEFCE)
Academic Members Professor Bruce Brown (University of Brighton)
Professor John Caughie (University of Glasgow)
Professor Roger Kain (University of Exeter)
Professor Halvor Moxnes, University of Oslo (Chair in New Testament)
Professor Morag Shiach (Queen Mary, University of London)
Paul Slack (University of Oxford)
Professor Liz Slater (University of Liverpool)

HEFCE and AHRC expert group on research metrics
Terms of Reference

A. Background

1. In the Science and investment innovation framework the government reiterated its commitment to the dual support system as the basis for distributing public funds for research in higher education through the HE funding bodies and the research councils, and set out distinct strategic aims for each of these two funding streams. The overarching national policy is to support research of the highest quality to benefit the economy and society. The subsequent policy statement Science and innovation investment framework: next steps reiterated this policy and announced early action towards the greater use of metrics in allocating funds through the HE funding bodies in particular. A consultation on the means of implementing this was issued on 13 June for responses by 11 October. The consultation paper recognised that possible metrics are generally less well developed, and less straightforward in their application, in the arts and humanities and in the social sciences than for medical, scientific and engineering disciplines, and called for further work to develop a more differentiated approach to recognizing and rewarding research excellence in the former group of disciplines.

2. In this context HEFCE and AHRC have jointly established an expert review panel to advise on the use of metrics and other indicators in assessing quality and allocating funding for research in the arts and humanities. HEFCE is the body primarily charged with supporting funding research in the arts and humanities in England, applying approximately 200 million to that purpose in England this year. Under its Royal Charter the AHRC, which operates across the UK, is empowered to promote and support high quality research in the arts and humanities. It thus has a direct interest in the performance of arts and humanities researchers in the UK and the quality of their outputs. It is the largest funder of arts and humanities research in the UK after the Funding Councils and is connected with the whole community of researchers through its many Panels and its Peer Review College with some five hundred members.

3. The group has been asked to report to the chief executives of the two bodies by the middle of October 2006. The other UK HE funding bodies will receive papers and may send observers.

B. Questions

General

1. What are the distinguishing characteristics of excellence in research in the Arts and Humanities, and how might these be recognised and reinforced through any system of quality assessment and funding allocations to deliver the policy aim of government and the public funding bodies? What behaviours, and what types of research activity, should assessment and funding systems consequently seek to incentivise?

2. What metrics-based[1] approaches to assessing quality and allocating funding in the arts and humanities are possible now, or could become so in the next few years? To develop a robust and effective approach, how broad a field of potential metrics and related indicators of quality should be considered?

In developing a metrics-based approach:

3. What should be the reference point for indicators of quality national excellence, international excellence or a combination of these?

4. How far and in what ways can issues of dissemination and knowledge transfer and the requirements of research users be taken into account in selecting and using indicators of quality?

5. Is there a single metric that would meet our various needs as funders (for quality assessment, for funding or for both)?

6. If a single metric approach is not possible, what combination of metrics might be employed? Should these be differentially weighted? If so, how should this be achieved?

7. Should qualitative indicators have a role to play? If so, which such indicators might be used and how should these be interpreted in combination with the metrics?

8. Having established a metric or a suite of indicators, how might this best be applied in practice? Is it feasible to produce robust indicators of quality that can also be used in funding, or is some degree of distinction between quality assessment and funding allocations more workable?

9. Should the arrangements include a role for an oversight mechanism of the metrics-based quality criteria. If required, what form should it take?


[1] In thinking of such metrics the group is empowered to think as widely as possible, considering any possible metric except the use of the output of the European Reference Index in the Humanities project.