RCUK: Efficiency and effectiveness of peer review

01 January 2007

The Royal Society responded to Research Councils UK's consultation on the efficiency and effectiveness of peer review in January 2007. The Society believes peer review is the only effective way of properly assessing the quality of research proposals, but agrees it is a time-consuming process, and so welcomes proposals to reduce the burden. The high number of grant applications should be viewed from a positive perspective, as it is indicative of the high number of ideas for research possibilities within the UK. The low ratio of grants awarded to applications is not the result of a fault in the assessment system. Rather, this low ratio of grants awarded is due to intense competition for a limited pool of funds.


Our response supports an increased consolidation of grants to the level of research groups, as long as the decision-making process is both rigorous and transparent. Providing that it is carefully implemented, we welcome the move towards using outline proposals for initial assessment, as this will allow feedback to be addressed more quickly, and will reduce the time spent on calculating detailed costs for proposals that are not then funded. We support a greater control of resubmissions, as it is in everyone's interest to remove less competitive proposals from the system as soon as possible.

However, we would be very concerned by any move towards setting a quota on the number of research proposals accepted from any given institution. We do not feel this would reduce the burden of peer review, but merely move it to within the institution. This would neither be a healthy transfer, nor work towards the stated aim of increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of the peer review system, as outlined in RCUK's consultation document.

Any moves to change the peer review process for research councils will need to be considered in the light of planned changes to the way Higher Education Funding Council funds are allocated post 2008.