The Royal Academy of Engineering welcomes this week’s announcement of the new arrangements for the Research Assessment Exercise for Britain’s universities. The Academy, which represents the country’s top engineers, hopes to see its recommendations on the process included, reflecting the creative and interdisciplinary nature of engineering.

“Our biggest contention was that you can’t measure how good engineering research is just through academic papers,” says Academy Vice-President Philip Ruffles, who chaired the 2001 Academy report, Measuring Excellence in Engineering Research. “The research assessment system was too biased towards academic publications, which in turn drove researchers to pursue projects that would result in more journal papers.”

In its 2001 report the Academy defined excellence in engineering with five qualities: strategy, creation of new knowledge, application, scholarship and sustainability of the research group. Only some of these can be measured by the conventional citation index and proposals for a much broader assessment method involving experts from business and industry are most welcome, as are measures to deal with interdisciplinary research.

The Academy has also emphasised the importance of international competitiveness in research. “Future quality assessments must place proper emphasis on international experience and ideally involve overseas assessors in the actual assessment process,” says Philip Ruffles. “If we want to trade globally using the output from our university research we must make sure we can benchmark it internationally – multidisciplinary research co-operation is what international companies are looking for.”

In another report in 2003, the Academy warned that UK engineering research is now in an extremely precarious position, with 46 university engineering departments having closed since 1996 and many others severely underfunded. The Future of Engineering Research identified a demographic time bomb for UK engineering academics as increasing numbers face retirement by 2010. “A broader-based Research Assessment Exercise is an important step towards solving these problems,” says Philip Ruffles.

Notes for editors

  1. Philip Ruffles CBE RDI FREng FRS was formerly Director of Engineering and Technology for Rolls-Royce plc. He has championed the benefits of technology transfer and industry/academia links and has contributed widely to government and industry bodies, including the Central Research Laboratories Council and the Defence Scientific Advisory Committee.
  2. Copies of the reports Measuring Excellence in Engineering Research and The Future of Engineering Research are available from the Academy’s Engineering Affairs Department.
  3. Founded in 1976, the Royal Academy of Engineering promotes the engineering and technological welfare of the country. Our fellowship - comprising the UK’s most eminent engineers - provides the leadership and expertise for our activities, which focus on the relationships between engineering, technology, and the quality of life. As a national academy, we provide independent and impartial advice to Government; work to secure the next generation of engineers; and provide a voice for Britain’s engineering community.

For more information please contact

Jane Sutton at the Royal Academy of Engineering