Monday, September 11, 2006

Metrics to hit the Arts and Humanities in Britain...?

The Times Higher reports that a working group has recommended a metrics based system to assess arts and humanties departments in future. At the present, these departments are assessed through peer review. Peer review panels decide, effectively, the quality of departments such that the higher a department's quality, the higher funding the department will receive from the government. Over recent years, higher quality meant higher funding only with scores of 5 (and 5* and 6*) out of 5.

The government has been looking for ways of bringing metrics into the mix. The current proposal is the latest version of this. It is worrying. We learn:

"Research output productivity---the number of publications, performances, exhibitions or books---would also be worth up to 30 points. Organising research conferences or editing collections of essays would also count here."

This is worrying because whereas the RAE has concerned itself with quality through peer review, this metrics approach brings in only a worry about quantity. I doubt this is the best way to see getting the most out of what little public money we receive. It is true that peer review has some place---grants awarded (normally peer reviewed) will also be given much weight---but one must be sceptical about trying to come up with fixed numbers for something that defies such quantification....

It always astounds me. British universities try so hard to compete successfully with American universities. Yet, the time we spend in Britain worrying about standards may well be best spent on improving the standards of our work...instead of constantly spending more time on thinking about how best we might try to assess the standard. Harvard and Yale don't use a RAE---why us? All that extra time we lose is spent by competitors doing what we want to do--produce first rate work. Some things I have sympathy for---such as second markers---but some things I do not.

(Full story is here.)

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