In January last year a directive from John Denham, secretary of state in what was then the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, announced that research funding for universities was going to be rethought.[*] The new system should 'continue to incentivise research excellence' and reward 'the quality of researchers' contribution to public policy-making and to public engagement'. It shouldn't create 'disincentives to researchers moving between academia and the private sector', as by implication the present system does. In September the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) produced its plan, The Research Excellence Framework: Second Consultation on the Assessment and Funding of Research, a document written in a bureaucratic vocabulary that reflects little credit on those who commissioned it or those who wrote it. That this vocabulary is now dominant is no excuse: it's also the language of the response to the proposals by Universities UK, an organisation whose membership consists of the heads of every British university. The proposals have been widely discussed and some of them widely criticised, but much of their point and many of their failings have been missed.
LRB 25 February 2010 | PDF Download