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Report on the Research Assessment Exercise Seminar: Industry, Commerce and the RAE

Joint Higher Education Funding Bodies, Department of Trade and Industry and Confederation of British Industry

14th March 2000, DTI Conference Centre, London

  1. The Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) values all forms of research activity and output equally, including that of direct relevance to industry and commerce. The arrangements for the RAE 2001 have been developed to ensure that this principle is achieved in practice throughout the assessment process. In developing the arrangements for the assessment of industrial and commercial work and other applied research, the funding bodies1 have worked in partnership with the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the Confederation of British Industry (CBI). As part of this collaboration, a seminar on Industry, Commerce and the RAE was held at the DTI Conference Centre in London on 14 March 2000. The seminar was designed to give representatives of RAE panels the opportunity to discuss the application of their criteria and working methods to the assessment of industrial and commercial work and other applied research. The seminar was well attended with over 100 delegates from RAE panels together with officers of the funding bodies, the DTI, the CBI, the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals and the Patent Office.

  2. The seminar was opened by Lord Sainsbury, Minister for Science. Lord Sainsbury discussed the RAE and the UK's research base, the government's vision for the role of universities, and the promotion of knowledge transfer. Lord Sainsbury confirmed that the proper recognition and encouragement of industrial and commercially relevant work was key to the government's aims of promoting university-business interaction in a knowledge driven economy.

  3. Noting that the RAE has helped underpin the UK's world class university research base, Lord Sainsbury re-affirmed the government's commitment to sustaining and developing that research base. The challenge, building from that base, is to stimulate and facilitate the increased transfer of knowledge to business and society. Lord Sainsbury commented on the changing nature of the process of innovation, driven by the increasing pace of technological change, the rise of new technology intensive sectors, the greater knowledge intensity of industry, globalisation of technology and shortening development times for new products. This was leading to the development of global R & D networks, partnerships and alliances in research and the expansion of university-industry relationships. Against this background, the government is keen to see universities adopt a diversity of missions capitalising upon their particular areas of strength in research, teaching and knowledge transfer. The government, therefore, is encouraging knowledge transfer through measures including the reach-out fund, the university challenge fund and the science enterprise challenge. It is important, however, that all support for higher education institutions combines to produce a mutually supportive funding framework and that no disincentives exist to knowledge transfer. For this reason, it is essential to correct the perception that exists in parts of the business and academic communities that the RAE gives more weight to published academic papers than to other forms of research output.

  4. Lord Sainsbury applauded the efforts of the funding bodies, DTI and CBI to ensure that the RAE properly recognises and rewards applied research. Launching the information leaflet, Industry, Commerce and the RAE, he welcomed in particular the much fuller involvement of users of research on assessment panels, the embodiment of the principle of equity of treatment in RAE panels' criteria, and the acceptance for the first time of confidential research outputs. Lord Sainsbury closed by thanking panel members for their considerable contribution to the RAE process.

  5. The first working session of the seminar was entitled Funding and Collaborative Projects: decision-making processes in industry and commerce. The session took the form of a series of short case studies on industrial funding for research projects in universities and collaborative industry-academic projects. They were designed to highlight in particular the types of decision making processes applied in industry and commerce in allocating funding to or agreeing to participate in research projects. Case studies were presented by Dr Hugh Aldridge, Hewlett Packard; Professor Christopher Moore, Rolls Royce; Dr Paul Harston, BNFL and Carden Taft, Thermotic Developments Ltd. The case studies were followed by small group discussions, facilitated by the case study presenters, on the application of RAE panel criteria to industrial research funding and collaborative projects.

  6. The discussion centred on the challenges presented to RAE panels by the assessment of forms of applied and relevant research work which were often less familiar to them than traditional academic research. While it was recognised that commercial success was not necessarily an indicator of the quality of the underlying research, it was agreed that all possible marks of research quality, including commercial success and impact on policy or practice, should be taken into account. It was noted that, with regard to research sponsorship, decision making processes in companies were often as rigorous, if different in character, from academic peer review systems. The scale of funding or size of company was not necessarily indicative of the quality of research being sponsored as large scale clinical trials, for example, might involve less original research than small scale high technology developments. The fuller involvement of user representative was welcomed and was acknowledged to be of great assistance to panels in considering applied research work.

  7. The second working session was entitled Industrial-Academic Collaboration: assessing the outputs. This session centred on a case study led by Peter Mucci, DTI Innovation Unit and the University of Southampton, and Professor John Amner, Ford Research and Engineering. It discussed the development, over a period of years, of Southampton University's relationship with the Ford Motor Company and illustrated the range of activities and outputs involved. The session included a discussion of how the panels' criteria might relate to assessing the profile of activity that could be submitted to the RAE on the basis of a relationship such as that between Ford and Southampton University.

  8. Further information or copies of the leaflet Industry, Commerce and the RAE are available from John Rogers, RAE Manager, 0117 931 7237, e-mail j.rogers@hefce.ac.uk

1The funding bodies which sponsor the research assessment exercise are the Higher Education Funding Council for England, Scottish Higher Education Funding Council, Higher Education Funding Council for Wales and Department of Higher and Further Education,Training and Employment for Northern Ireland.

Last updated 15 June 2000

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