“45% of grants were not of excellent standard”

September 8, 2010
Vince Cable MP addressing a Liberal Democrat c...

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In which I get all huffy about Vince Cable‘s speech at QMUL this morning & his appearance on the today program.


This morning the formerly well-respected UK Business Secretary, Vince Cable MP, spoke of impending cuts to the UK science budget. In his interview on the radio 4 today program, he said

“45% of grants were not of excellent standard.”

In his speech at QMUL, he said:

“It is worth noting in the last RAE 54 per cent of submitted work was defined as world-class and that is the area where funding should be concentrated.”

These numbers come from the Research Assessment exercise 2008. The RAE says that:

“The results demonstrate that 54% of the research conducted by 52,400 staff submitted by 159 universities and colleges is either ‘world-leading’ (17 per cent in the highest grade) – or ‘internationally excellent’ (37 per cent in the second highest grade).”

Which is obviously where Mr Cable gets his “54%” figure from, and I am guessing, the “45%” figure (I can’t find anything else that matches).
What Mr Cable fails to do, is read the next line of the RAE:

“Taking the top three grades together (the third grade represents work of internationally recognised quality), 87% of the research activity is of international quality

In stating that 45% of research is not excellent, Cable is lumping together:

  • “Quality that is recognised internationally in terms of originality, significance and rigour (2*)”,
  • “Quality that is recognised nationally in terms of originality, significance and rigour. (1*)”,
  • the 2% of assessed work that “falls below the standard of nationally recognised work.”

Research that is “recognised internationally in terms of originality, significance and rigour” is not excellent? Sounds pretty excellent to me.

Conflating said internationally recognised research with research that “falls below the standard of nationally recognised work” hardly seems fair and scrupulous.

This is cherry-picking on a par with the homeopaths, and is no basis upon which to decide funding for the already cash-strapped UK research sector.

I shall await the budget on October the 20th with one eye on the overseas science job market.


MASSIVE COI declared


EDIT – so it turns out I was pretty much right – http://www.rcuk.ac.uk/news/100908