After the business secretary, Vince Cable, said that 45% of the research grants that "were going through were to research that was not of excellent standard" and that there is a need in setting "the bar higher", some listeners were left with the false impression of these words. Namely, they thought that almost half of the money aimed at conducting researches does not provide value for money but that was a wrong impression.
In his speech, Vince Cable misused an arbitrary reading of the results presented by Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) which measures the quality of the research conducted in British universities. Actually, according to the results of 2008, 54% of the research activity include 17% rated at 4*, 37% at 3*, 33% at 2* and 11% of the work was rated 1* at. The business secretary referred to 45%, which is the rest.
The 2008 RAE assessments are publicly available, showing impressive figures in custom papers. However, the findings were not a surprise to scientists who are aware of the strong competitive process of winning grant funding from research councils in the UK. The competition is really intense as the success rates for people applying to life sciences range between 19% and 23%.
The doubts about the quality of the outputs have never appeared, but the business secretary is now calling the researchers for doing “more with less”. However, it would probably be unfair to ask scientists to do the same while the whole system is under the threat of disappearing. In fact, Vince Cable recognized the inefficiency of a grant allocation process with such low success rates. Now he is expected to explain how any productivity improvements could be made in such a situation.