SPRU professor to chair Government review of research assessment

Professor James Wilsdon, Professor of Science and Democracy at SPRU – Science and Technology Policy Research, is to chair a Government review of the role of metrics in research assessment and management.

James WilsdonProfessor James Wilsdon

David Willetts MP, Minister for Universities and Science, announced the review on Thursday (3 April). It will be led by Professor Wilsdon on behalf of HEFCE (the Higher Education Funding Council for England). 

Professor Wilsdon will be supported by an independent steering group drawn from higher education institutions, research funders and national academies. The review will draw on evidence and ideas from a wide range of sources. A formal invitation to submit evidence will be issued shortly. 

Professor Wilsdon said: “Metrics of various kinds have become an increasingly prominent part of university and research life over the past 10 years. 

“Some people proudly stick their H-index [a measure of how many highly cited papers a researcher has written] at the top of their CV. Others see certain metrics as methodologically flawed, administratively burdensome or corrosive of academic freedom. I want this review to chart a thoughtful, balanced and evidence-based path through these debates. 

“Used appropriately, bibliometrics and altmetrics can make a helpful contribution to the measurement and management of research and its wider impacts.

“If we look beyond the 2014 Research Excellence Framework to the future design of the UK’s research system, we need to understand which metrics are most valuable, when to use them, and why. And we need to put in place guidelines and safeguards to avoid the misuse of metrics and the gaming of evaluation systems.” 

The review will consider the role of metrics-based assessment in determining the quality, impact and other key characteristics of research undertaken in the higher education sector. The outcomes will be of interest to higher education institutions, research organisations and research funders. 

The project will run until spring 2015. 

David Sweeney, HEFCE’s Director for Research, Innovation and Skills, said: “Measuring research performance is important for institutions for many reasons, and is also central to national research assessment. 

“The outcomes of this review will be of interest to universities and governments worldwide as they consider how best to do this. We have assembled an eminent group of experts to steer this review, and I look forward to receiving their advice on this important topic in due course.”

Professor Wilsdon joined Sussex in 2011 from the Royal Society, where he was the founding director of the Science Policy Centre.

He co-ordinated a series of influential studies on topics such as geo-engineering, food security, science diplomacy, open science and the prospects for science in the Islamic world. He also led the Society’s campaigning to protect the research budget through the 2010 general election and spending round.

Before joining the Royal Society, he was Head of Strategy, and later Head of Science and Innovation, at the think tank Demos, and was Senior Policy Adviser at the sustainability NGO, Forum for the Future. He was also a Senior Research Fellow in the Institute for Advanced Studies at Lancaster University.

In 2013, he became the new chair of the Campaign for Social Sciences.