The research assessment exercise is damaging UK medicine

The current method for assessing the quality of research in universities and colleges in the UK is having a negative impact on medical schools and should be abolished, concludes a commentary in this week's issue of THE LANCET.

The UK Higher Education Funding Council distributes public funds to universities based on the outcome of the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE). Institutions that score highly in the RAE receive a larger proportion of the available grant.

But Jangu Banatvala (Guy's, King's and St Thomas' School of Medicine and Dentistry, UK) and colleagues believe that the RAE is inappropriate for academic medicine. They state that the RAE has altered staffing structures and distorted the integrated approach to teaching, clinical practice and research. This in turn has compromised the training of medical students and jeopardised high-quality translational research that is directed towards the benefit of patients. The numbers of clinical academic staff have been cut to recruit basic scientists whose research is likely to favour RAE ratings. The knock-on effect of reductions in academic staff is for staff in the NHS to carry an additional teaching burden, which is often difficult to fulfill.

The authors write that the RAE should be abolished. They believe that research councils and major charitable foundations have efficient peer-review mechanisms, which can recognise and reward research excellence without compromising the roles of clinical academics.

Professor Banatvala comments: "The combined shortfall of university funding has forced deans of medical schools to behave like managers of Premier Division soccer clubs, recruiting potential research stars to improve or maintain RAE ratings, at the expense of teaching and clinical practice. In every other industrialised country, clinical skills are highly prized. It is therefore disturbing that some schools, to save money, have failed to appoint professors when chair-holders retire

Contact: Joe Santangelo

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