#413: Academos

The UK government is still wrangling with the question of how to hand out public money to university researchers: the infamous Research Assessment Exercise.

Since it’s so insanely costly to work out the ‘value’ of what researchers produce (some would say it was wrongheaded) there is a move to count up paper citations and use that as a metric for distributing the cash.


Today’s invention is a better, ultra cheap metric method. Ask all academic staff (I’d certainly include postdocs) to rank the Professors they most respect at other institutions across the country. Money would be handed out to Professors (I don’t mean US-style university teachers) for their teams in proportion to the number of votes cast in their favour.

Some Profs wouldn’t get any votes -that’s called peer review and means they would only do teaching. Some would enter into backscratching cabals, but this would be easy to detect and very difficult to effect widely. This approach would weaken the old boy network and make it much more difficult for ‘political’ academics to influence research funding decisions.

I’d also scale down the funding councils to administer equipment/travel expenditure only (this would allow researchers to do fundamental work without being driven by a short-term political agenda).

The proposed scheme would also allow universities to buy and sell professors (with their groups) on a transfer market, according to their rating (which would be excellent for cross fertilisation of ideas). It would also work in both Arts and Sciences, be demonstrably fair and achieveable during a single afternoon via a secure website -thus saving millions for research rather than bureaucracy).

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