HC Deb 29 January 1997 vol 289 c355
11. Dr. Wright

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what assessment she has made of the benefits accruing from the research assessment exercise in universities. [11736]

Mrs. Gillian Shephard

The research assessment exercise supports our policy that research funding should selectively reward excellence, allowing world-class research to flourish and focusing increasing activity on higher-rated departments.

Dr. Wright

Is the Secretary of State aware of the way in which the research assessment exercise has preoccupied the attention of universities and their staff? We hear of staff being transferred between institutions, sometimes with transfer fees, to inflate the research ratings. We have the unreadable in search of the unteachable as research is produced that nobody wants to read or needs to read, while teaching is being devalued. Is it not time to sort this nonsense out?

Mrs. Shephard

It is a peer review system that has been refined over 10 years, and it is as robust and sensitive as the funding bodies can make it. The hon. Gentleman will wish to place alongside it the quality assessment mechanisms developed by the universities. The mobility of academics is not necessarily unhelpful for university institutions and the health of the research base. As I am sure he is aware, research is increasingly globalised, so his criticism does not logically follow.

Mr. Forman

I welcome the good sense of seeking to concentrate our university research in a smaller number of centres of excellence, for the reasons that my right hon. Friend has stated, but I wonder whether the process could be advanced with slightly less paperwork than is currently required. Some of the frequent complaints from universities are along those lines.

Mrs. Shephard

The review was certainly thorough. The operation will have to be looked at again now that the exercise has been completed. The first necessity when allocating £700 million-worth of research is to do the job thoroughly.