ALDO GEUNA and BEN R. MARTIN
UNIVERSITY RESEARCH EVALUATION AND FUNDING:
AN INTERNATIONAL COMPARISON
ABSTRACT. Many countries have introduced evaluations of university research, reﬂect-
ing global demands for greater accountability. This paper compares methods of evaluation
used across twelve countries in Europe and the Asia-Paciﬁc region. On the basis of this
comparison, and focusing in particular on Britain, we examine the advantages and disad-
vantages of performance-based funding in comparison with other approaches to funding.
Our analysis suggests that, while initial beneﬁts may outweigh the costs, over time such
a system seems to produce diminishing returns. This raises important questions about its
Research evaluation has emerged as a key issue in many industrialized
countries, where universities are faced with demands for greater account-
ability and the consequences of diminished funding.1Universities today
are expected to be both efﬁcient and accountable.2These pressures have
made evaluation essential. In itself, this is nothing new. For more than
two decades, there has been growing concern ‘about the increasing cost
of funding university-based research ... and the need to obtain “value for
money” for public expenditure on higher education’.3In response, many
governments have implemented mechanisms that attempt to relate funding
to performance. In this paper, we outline the leading characteristics of
university research assessment and funding practices in ten European
1OECD, The Evaluation of Scientiﬁc Research: Selected Experiences (Paris: OECD,
2W.F. Massy (ed.), Resource Allocation in Higher Education (Ann Arbor: University
of Michigan Press, 1996).
3OECD, Universities Under Scrutiny (Paris: OECD, 1987). See also C. Gellert (ed.),
Higher Education in Europe (London and Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley, 1993); A.
Geuna, The Economics of Knowledge Production: Funding and the Structure of University
Research (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 1999); R.G. Noll (ed.), Challenges to Research
Universities (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 1998); and OECD, University
Research in Transition (Paris: OECD, 1998).
Minerva 41: 277–304, 2003.
© 2003 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
278 ALDO GEUNA AND BEN R. MARTIN
countries, Australia, and Hong Kong.4We consider some of the advantages
and disadvantages inherent in performance-based funding systems; and in
the context of Britain, we pose the question, do the beneﬁts outweigh the
results over the longer term?
RESEARCH EVA L UA T I O N
Although some have attempted to distinguish between ‘evaluation’ and
‘assessment’, both terms are used in measuring the qualitative and quant-
itative outputs of any given academic unit.5In practice, ‘evaluation’ can
be divided into ex ante and ex post forms, and can perform either a
summative or formative function.6Ex ante evaluation is conducted prior
to research – to assess its potential signiﬁcance and likelihood of success.
Ex post evaluation comes once research has been completed, and assesses
output and impact. Summative evaluation involves making judgements
about the performance of a unit by comparison with similar units. Eval-
uation results are increasingly used as inputs in research management.7
‘Evaluation for strategy’ is conducted at both national and institutional
levels – in ‘quality assessment systems’, for example. Evaluation is also
used to decide funding, following performance assessments of researchers,
projects, programmes, departments, and institutions. The assumption is
that funds that are allocated after performance is evaluated, will yield
greater returns.8In formative evaluation, the aim is to assist a unit in
achieving those returns.
There has been much debate about the advantages of evaluation as a
tool of research policy.9Evaluation in some form inevitably takes place
4Information pertaining to these twelve countries covers the period from the mid 1980s
5P.V. Hills and A.J. Dale, ‘Research and Technology Evaluation in the United
Kingdom’, Research Evaluation, 5 (1), (1995), 35–44.
6M. Kogan, ‘The Evaluation of Higher Education: An Introductory Note’, in M. Kogan
(ed.), Evaluating Higher Education (London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 1989), 11–
25; Massy, op. cit. note 2; and L.E. Suter, ‘United States: The Experience of the NSF’s
Education and Human Resources Directorate’, in OECD, op. cit. note 1.
7J. van Steen and M. Eijfﬁnger, ‘Evaluation Practices of Scientiﬁc Research in The
Netherlands’, Research Evaluation, 7 (2), (1998), 113–122.
8In a few cases, a political decision may be taken to invest in building up weaker groups
rather than in concentrating resources on successful ones.
9See C. Cooper and D. Otley, ‘The 1996 Research Assessment Exercise for Business
and Management’, British Journal of Management, 9 (1998), 73–89; E. El-Khawasi and
W.F. Massy, ‘Britain’s “Performance-Based” System’, in Massy op. cit. note 2, 223–242;
UNIVERSITY RESEARCH EVALUATION AND FUNDING 279
every time a paper is submitted for publication, or a new professor is
appointed or promoted, or a learned society or government body allocates
a grant. But while there is a large literature on performance indicators,
there is little consensus as to which measurements work best.10 At the
same time, the goals of evaluation tend to be deﬁned by the evaluating
agency.11 In the UK, this is the responsibility of the Higher Education
Funding Councils (HEFCs),12 while in The Netherlands, evaluations are
carried out by the Association of Netherlands Universities (VSNU). The
HEFCs use evaluation as a method of allocating funds, while VSNU uses
evaluation as a management tool. Different agencies also employ different
criteria. They tend to focus on four typical output measures: volume,
quality, impact, and utility. Peer review and bibliometric measures are
their main methods. In ‘peer review’, the unit of assessment is normally
the ‘project’ or the ‘individual’. However, because bibliometric analyses
cannot be usefully applied across the board, to all departments in a large
number of universities,13 peer review has become the principal method of
university assessment as well.14 When supplemented with publication and
citation data and other information, this method is called ‘informed peer
A. Geuna, ‘The Changing Rationale for European University Research Funding: Are There
Negative Unintended Consequences?’ Journal of Economic Issues, 35 (3), (2001), 607–
632; M. Kogan, ‘The Treatment of Research’, Higher Education Quarterly, 52 (1), (1998),
48–63; S. Kushner, ‘The Research Assessment Exercise versus Development in Higher
Education: A Response to Richard Pring’, British Journal of Educational Studies,44
(1), (1996), 5–8; and G. Whittington, ‘The 1996 Research Assessment Exercise’, British
Accounting Review, 29 (1997), 181–197.
10 Geuna, op. cit. note 3. For an early study of difﬁculties in constructing research
performance indicators, see B.R. Martin and J. Irvine, ‘Assessing Basic Research: Some
Partial Indicators of Scientiﬁc Progress in Radio Astronomy’, Research Policy,12(2),
(1983), 61–90. For further discussion, see M. Cave, S. Hanney, M. Henkel, and M. Kogan,
The Use of Performance Indicators in Higher Education, Higher Education Policy Series
(London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 1997), ch. 4; and R.T.H. van Raan (ed.), Handbook
of Quantitative Studies of Science and Technology (Amsterdam: North Holland, 1988).
11 Steen and Eijfﬁnger, op. cit. note 7.
12 The HEFCs are responsible for allocating teaching and general research funds to
13 The main problem consists in having to ‘clean up’ institutional addresses, a task
that can take many person-years of effort. See B.R. Martin and J.E.F. Skea, ‘Academic
Research Performance Indicators: An Assessment of the Possibilities’ (Brighton: Science
Policy Research Unit, 1992).
14 Surveys suggest that researchers favour peer review over other assessment methods
(see ibid.). See also S. Cole, J.R. Cole, and G.A Simon, ‘Chance and Consensus in Peer
Review’, Science, 214 (1981), 881–886.
280 ALDO GEUNA AND BEN R. MARTIN
Let us consider some of the similar and contrasting approaches to
evaluation – ﬁrst in Europe, then in Asia-Paciﬁc.
UNIVERSITY RESEARCH EVA L U AT I O N I N EUROPE
The United Kingdom
In the UK, university research is ﬁnanced through a dual-support system,
which combines general institutional funding with grants and contracts.
During the late 1980s, the system underwent radical change. The turning
point came with the Education Reform Act of 1988, which created two new
agencies – the Universities Funding Council (UFC) and the Polytechnics
and Colleges Funding Council (PCFC). With these came a new commer-
cial ‘logic’, by which the two agencies became ‘buyers’ of academic
services. The idea was that universities, polytechnics, and colleges would
be transformed from public institutions, run at state expense, to suppliers,
servicing ‘clients’. In the early 1990s, the UFC and PCFC were merged
into a single Higher Education Funding Council (HEFC); and in 1993,
separate agencies were created for England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern
Ireland. In 1992, following the publication of an inﬂuential White Paper,
entitled, Higher Education: A New Framework, Britain’s polytechnics
were granted university status, and the Conservative government began
to encourage competition between the ‘old’ universities and the former
Over the past decade, the UK has developed one of the most advanced
research evaluation systems in Europe.15 Evaluation now takes place not
only at the level of the individual researcher and project, but also at institu-
tional and national levels.16 The ﬁrst Research Assessment Exercise (RAE)
was carried out in 1986, and a similar exercise was repeated in 1989,
1992, 1996, and 2001. In 2001, the RAE was carried out jointly by the
four higher education funding bodies.17 Their aim was to give each unit of
15 Hills and Dale, op. cit. note 5.
16 As in most industrialized countries, Research Councils and other funding agencies
conduct peer review evaluations of individual proposals for new research projects and (in
many cases) of completed research projects.
17 The four are the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), the Scot-
tish Higher Education Funding Council (SHEFC), the Higher Education Funding Council
for Wales (HEFCW), and the Department of Education for Northern Ireland (DENI). The
acronym HEFC is used here to denote all four.
UNIVERSITY RESEARCH EVALUATION AND FUNDING 281
university research18 a quality rating,19 on which the distribution of HEFC
funds would be based.20 The RAE’s deﬁnition of ‘research’ was broad, and
original investigation undertaken in order to gain knowledge and understanding. It includes
work of direct relevance to the needs of commerce and industry, as well as to the public and
voluntary sectors; scholarship;21 the invention and generation of ideas, images, perform-
ances and artefacts including design, where these lead to new or substantially improved
insights; and the use of existing knowledge in experimental development to produce new
or substantially improved materials, devices, products and processes, including design
and construction. It excludes routine testing and analysis of materials, components and
processes, e.g. for the maintenance of national standards, as distinct from the development
of new analytical techniques.22
The RAE has so far made no separate assessments of basic and applied
research. To refute the criticism that it is biased against applied research,23
panels have been instructed to give equal weighting to all research, whether
basic or applied;24 and to focus upon quality. In response to criticisms that
interdisciplinary research has not been fairly assessed,25 universities have
been encouraged to submit interdisciplinary work to the most appropriate
panel, and to suggest second panels to consider submissions in parallel.
How can these procedures be characterized? The RAE can be described
as an ‘ex post evaluation’ based on ‘informed peer review’. All research
activities within a university are categorized into so-called ‘units of assess-
ment’ (UoA). In 2001, sixty-eight UoAs were deﬁned, broadly similar
to those classiﬁed in 1992 and 1996. For each UoA, a panel of ten to
18 The RAE excludes teaching. Another exercise, the ‘Teaching Quality Assessment
(TQA)’, assesses university teaching.
19 All university departments are eligible to participate in the RAE.
20 In the ﬁscal year 1999–2000, 97% of the £855 million of HEFCE research funds
was distributed according to the RAE results. See J. Enderby, ‘Excellence Comes Through
Diversity’, The Times Higher Education Supplement, 1472, 2 February 2001, 20.
21 ‘Scholarship’ is deﬁned by HEFCE as the creation, development, and maintenance of
the intellectual infrastructure of subjects and disciplines.
22 HEFCE, Research Assessment Exercise 2001: Guidance on Submissions, RAE 2/99
(Bristol: Higher Education Funding Council for England, 1999).
23 E.g., J. Grifﬁth, Research Assessment: As Strange a Maze as E’er Men Trod (London:
Council for Academic Freedom & Academic Standards, Report No. 4, 1995).
24 HEFCE, Research Assessment Exercise 2001: Assessment Panels’ Criteria and
Working Methods, RAE5/99 (Bristol: Higher Education Funding Council for England,
25 Royal Society of Chemistry, Chemistry in the UK – Will it Survive? Conclusions of
the Royal Society of Chemistry Workshop (London: Royal Society of Chemistry, 1995); N.
Loder, ‘Funding Penalty For Cross-Boundary Work’, Nature, 399 (1999), 94; and J. Tait,
‘Help for the Academic Nomads in Search of Their Own Sympathetic Tribe’, The Times
Higher Education Supplement, 1374, 5 March 1999, 34–35.
282 ALDO GEUNA AND BEN R. MARTIN
ﬁfteen experts was chosen. Some 1,300 professional associations and
learned societies were asked to nominate candidates for these panels; panel
chairs were nominated by panellists from earlier exercises, and appointed
by the Funding Councils. Chairs in turn chose members from nominees
proposed by outside bodies, taking into account experience, standing, and
representation of user communities.26
In the RAE, every department or group within a university is assigned
to a UoA, hence to a panel.27 Information on performance requested in
2001 included the following:28
an overall staff summary – with information on all academic and
support staff, whether or not described as ‘research active’ staff;29
details on research-active staff whose work was to be evaluated;
publications and other public outputs – for each research-active
member of staff, up to four items could be submitted;30
an overview of research students and research studentships;
details of external research income, including amounts and sources;
a description of the research environment, its structure, policies and
general observations and additional information (including indicators
Using this information, panels judged the quality of each department and
assigned a rating on a scale from 1 to 5∗. This was used by the HEFCs to
determine funding for each unit, with the total block grant calculated by
summing across all units.31
In 2001, as earlier, publications constituted the core of university
assessment. The 1992 RAE required statistics on publications from
UoAs, in addition to four published/public outputs from each researcher.
26 HEFCE, Research Assessment Exercise 2001: Membership of Assessment Panels,
RAE 3/99 (Bristol: Higher Education Funding Council for England, 1999).
27 Occasionally, a university department may be assigned to more than one UoA, or two
departments may be combined in a single UoA.
28 HEFCE, op. cit. note 22.
29 A department is not obliged to submit the research outputs of all its staff; it can decide
to submit only certain ‘research active’ staff, the implication being that it will receive funds
only for those researchers.
30 The work was to have been published during the period 1 January 1994 to 31
December 2000, in the case of the arts and humanities, and between 1 January 1996 and
31 December 2000 for all other subjects.
31 In the 2001 RAE, there was a substantial increase in the number of departments
awarded 5 and 5∗rankings. However, because there was no proportional increase in
government funding, the resources allocated to all departments, except those receiving a
5∗rating, were cut substantially.
UNIVERSITY RESEARCH EVALUATION AND FUNDING 283
However, the 1996 and 2001 RAEs required only up to four outputs per
active staff member. The change was intended to focus upon quality rather
than quantity. It also reduced the incidence of ‘rush publications’ resulting
from last-minute attempts to increase aggregate totals.32
In The Netherlands, university research is also ﬁnanced through a dual-
support system. The Dutch Ministry of Education and Science provides
core funding through a so-called ‘ﬁrst-ﬂow’. ‘Second-ﬂow’ grants come
from research councils and foundations, and ‘third ﬂow’ contracts come
from government departments and other organizations. As elsewhere,
concern with quality and relevance has led to measures of accountab-
ility. In 1979, a White Paper recommended changes in the management
of research, and in 1983, a system of ‘conditional funding’ was intro-
duced, ostensibly to make research more efﬁcient and socially relevant.33
By this scheme, a distinction was drawn between funds given for teaching
and research (termed, respectively, ‘A-part’ and ‘B-part’ funds). Research
positions were ﬁnanced according to quality of output. Universities were
required to produce medium-term research plans, identifying areas of
strength that deserved priority. In addition, national objectives were iden-
tiﬁed, with the intention of increasing research in key ﬁelds. In 1992,
thirteen universities and the Minister for Education agreed that the Asso-
ciation of The Netherlands Universities (VSNU) should develop a system
‘Quality Assessment of Research’, using external evaluation to comple-
ment internal quality controls.34 This replaced the system of conditional
In 1993, the ‘conditional funding’ scheme was replaced by the so-
called HOBEK (Hoger Onderwijs BEKostigingsmodel, or ‘higher educa-
tion funding model’). This weighted allocations in terms of teaching
32 There is some evidence that the use of total numbers of publications as a performance
measure may have led to ‘publishing inﬂation’ – i.e., maximizing the number of articles
produced by repetition, lowering quality standards, or the ‘salami slicing’ of research into
‘least publishable units’. See Cave et al., op. cit. note 10.
33 Minister for Education and Science, Beleidsnota Universitair Onderwijs (The Hague:
Minister for Education and Science, Minister for Science Policy and Minister for Agri-
culture and Fisheries, 1979). See also J. Irvine, B. Martin, and P.A. Isard, Investinginthe
Future: An International Comparison of Government Funding of Academic and Related
Research (Aldershot: Edward Elgar, 1990).
34 The Dutch university system consists of fourteen universities – nine general, three
technical, one agricultural, and an Open University (which, because of its different nature,
is not included in the scheme described here).
35 Steen and Eijfﬁnger, op. cit. note 7.
284 ALDO GEUNA AND BEN R. MARTIN
(23%), research (64%), and what was called ‘inter-weavement’ (13%).
Funding was based on four factors: student numbers, numbers of previous
year degrees, numbers of students completing the degree in the required
four years, and numbers of graduating research students. However, the
budget was allocated incrementally, and on an historical basis, rather than
according to quality.36 In 1999, HOBEK was replaced by a new model
called STABEK (‘STAbiele BEKostiging’, or ‘stable funding’). Under this
scheme, the government approves funding for several years, so as to ensure
greater ‘stability’. However, this is intended to be temporary, until such
time as the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science develops a scheme
that puts greater emphasis upon performance.37
In The Netherlands, university research is classiﬁed according to disci-
plines and programmes.38 The Dutch have used evaluations not to allocate
funds, but to develop strategies. On the one hand, as Arie Rip and Barend
van der Meulen have shown, the Dutch research culture prefers informal,
‘bottom-up’ assessments. On the other, policy-makers are more interested
in making strategic choices than in evaluating performance.39 Thus, each
of twenty-seven disciplines is evaluated by a different committee. Unlike
British practice, according to which all disciplines are evaluated simul-
taneously, the Dutch phase their evaluations over four to six years.40 In
1993, a ﬁrst pilot group of disciplines was chosen, each with a Review
Committee of ﬁve to seven experts, set up by VSNU in consultation with
the Royal Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW). The chair was either a
Dutch expert or a foreign expert thoroughly familiar with the Dutch scene.
To ensure impartiality, committee members were predominantly foreign.
For this reason, the principal language was English, and the results were
published in English.
These committees continue to evaluate performance over periods of ﬁve
years, in the following categories:
36 J.B.J. Koelman, ‘The Funding of Universities in The Netherlands: Developments and
Trends’, Higher Education, 35 (2), (1998), 127–141.
37 P. van der Meer, ‘Funding and Allocation of Resources in Higher Education: The
Dutch Case’, paper prepared for the 3rd ALFA-BRACARA international conference on
‘Funding and Allocation of Resources in Higher Education’, held on 8–10 February at
Universidad Nacional Autonoma de M´
38 These represent the smallest unit of assessment – hierarchically, research programmes
are organized under university departments.
39 A. Rip and B.J.R. van der Meulen, ‘The Patchwork of the Dutch Evaluation System’,
Research Evaluation, 5 (1), (1995), 45–53.
40 Because evaluation is not used for determining the allocation of funds, there is no
need to evaluate all disciplines at the same time. The ﬁrst round of evaluations covering
twenty-seven disciplines was completed in 1998, and a second round began in 1999.
UNIVERSITY RESEARCH EVALUATION AND FUNDING 285
programme mission and research plan;
content of programmes and main results;
ﬁve selected key publications; and
other indicators of quality and reputation (such as patents and invited
The committees also conduct site visits and interview programme leaders.
Where possible, they commission bibliometric analyses,41 because VSNU
believes that these complement written and oral information.42 The com-
mittees then assess each programme in four dimensions:
1. scientiﬁc quality – originality of ideas and methods, importance of the
discipline, impact, and prominence;
2. scientiﬁc productivity – inputs and outputs (staff and funds are inputs;
while outputs are number (and nature) of publications, dissertations,
patents, and invited lectures);
3. scientiﬁc relevance – relevance to the advancement of knowledge and
technology; and social consequences; and
4. long-term viability for research, publication, coherence, and continuity
The assessment is translated into a ﬁve-point rating (1 = ‘poor’, 5 =
‘excellent’). In the most recent 1999–2002 assessment, the framework
remained the same, but greater leeway was given to assess groups in rela-
tion to their differing missions. (Quality and productivity continue to be
assessed according to a single standard, as before.) This greater ﬂexibility
reﬂects VSNU’s recognition of differences between institutions. However,
it remains to be seen how much effect this distinction will have, since the
assessment committees are free to decide the extent to which they take
differing missions into account.43
In Germany, most academic research is conducted either in organized
research institutes (such as the Max-Plank or Fraunhofer institutes) or
41 For example, the Review Committee for Chemical Research was provided with a
bibliometric analysis produced by the Centre for Science and Technology Studies at Leiden
University (CWTS). This evaluated the impact of journal articles from all the research
programmes assessed by the committee.
42 VSNU, Quality Assessment of Research: Chemistry, Past Performance and Future
Perspectives (Utrecht: VSNU (Association of Netherlands Universities), 1996).
43 Personal communication from Anne Klemperer (June 1999).
286 ALDO GEUNA AND BEN R. MARTIN
in the ‘scientiﬁc universities’ (Wissenschaftliche Hochschulen). Some
research is also carried out in the polytechnics (or Fachhochschulen),
which are, however, mainly teaching institutions. Their research is funded
by contracts from industry or government agencies. There are only a few
private universities (such as the Universtät Witten-Herdecke).
There are three categories of public funding for university research. The
ﬁrst is institutional funding, which takes the form of block grants from the
state (Bundesland); this constitutes almost two-thirds of total university
expenditure, and covers basic infrastructure and staff. The second comes
in the form of a capital grant for buildings and large-scale equipment,
and is provided jointly by the federal government (Bund) and the Länder.
The third source is ‘third party funds’ (Drittmittel), which are grants and
contracts given by public institutions for speciﬁc projects. A large propor-
tion of these are allocated by the Deutsche Forschungsgemenschaft (DFG),
which is ﬁnanced jointly by the Bund and the Länder. Smaller proportions
are given by industrial sponsors, such as the Volkswagen-Stiftung and the
Fritz-Thyssen-Stiftung. As in other countries, such funds are granted on
the basis of peer review, using criteria of scientiﬁc excellence and social
Institutional and capital funds are allocated according to a proﬁle that
includes numbers of students and staff and current spending. To determine
research budgets, an ‘R&D coefﬁcient’ is derived from surveys, showing
time spent on research and teaching. In general, performance measures
have not been used to allocate research funds, and there have not been
evaluations for this purpose.44 In recent years, however, a few Länder have
allocated additional resources on a competitive or performance-related
basis. In particular, Lower Saxony set up a commission in 1998 to assess
performance in the Länd’s twelve universities.
There has as yet been no federal evaluation scheme covering all German
universities. This is partly explained by the fact that the universities are
ﬁnanced mainly by the Länder, but it also reﬂects widespread resistance
to the idea of inter-university competition. Among German academics,
‘competition is not yet seen as a principle for advancing and encouraging
research (and teaching) quality’,45 although some Länder have started
inter-university competitions in certain faculties (e.g., in the medical
faculties of Baden-Württemberg). Consequently, although there have been
44 Research evaluations of research institutes have become more common since 1990.
45 D.F.J. Campbell and B. Felderer, Evaluating Academic Research in Germany.
Patterns and Policies, Political Sciences Series No. 48 (Wien: Institute for Advanced
UNIVERSITY RESEARCH EVALUATION AND FUNDING 287
some evaluations of university research, these have mostly not inﬂuenced
In the late 1990s, the Federal government began to press for evalu-
ation.47 However, the German constitution grants universities considerable
autonomy. Indeed, it has been argued that, with the exception of student
evaluations, systematic governmental evaluations of university professors
are unconstitutional. Nevertheless, individual universities (and individual
faculties) have begun evaluations of their own. The Freie Universität in
Berlin, for instance, has done so, and has used its results in internal funding
distributions.48 However, other universities – such as those in the Verbund
Norddeutscher Universitäten (VNU) – see this as a merely retrospective
gesture, in that it rewards those that already have good records, while
what is needed is a mechanism that helps universities to improve their
In 1998, German higher education underwent a major reform with the
Bundestag’s adoption of an amendment to the Framework Act, which
makes competition possible through deregulation, performance orienta-
tion, and the creation of incentives.49 This provides a legal basis for
important structural improvements, including the introduction of ﬁnan-
cing based on teaching and research. It abolishes the previous ‘immunity’
of professors to external evaluation. Hence, external evaluation may
now begin to develop. Furthermore, some Länder (such as Baden-
Württemberg) are rethinking the traditional idea of the all-encompassing
university with a complete set of faculties and institutes. Instead, the future
may see new ‘centres of competence’ only at certain universities in any
The Nordic countries use a dual-support system to ﬁnance univer-
sity research. In Denmark and Finland, research councils give grants
based upon international peer review, and governments give institutional
funds. Only in Denmark and Finland do institutional funds contain a
performance-based component. In Denmark, a new budgeting system was
introduced in 1994, in which a distinction is made between funds for
teaching and for research. The budget contains ﬁve elements: a basic grant,
46 H.D. Daniel and R. Fisch, ‘Research Performance Evaluation in the German Univer-
sity Sector’, Scientometrics, 19 (5–6), (1990), 349–361.
47 Campbell and Felderer, op. cit. note 45.
49 BMBF, Facts and Figures 1998 (Bonn: Bundesministerium für Bildung und
288 ALDO GEUNA AND BEN R. MARTIN
a performance-related grant for teaching, a research grant, a grant for other
activities, and a capital grant. Until 1995, research funds were allocated on
an incremental basis. Since then, amounts awarded have depended upon
the volume of teaching and external research income. No other perfor-
mance measures are used, although PhD student numbers help determine
the performance-based grant for teaching.
In Norway, universities receive block grants, and no distinction is made
between teaching and research. Until recently, there has been no attempt
to adopt performance measures, apart from giving a ﬁxed sum per doctoral
graduate. Similarly, in Sweden there is no mechanism for performance-
based research funding. Following legislation in 1993, examination results
are the only indicator considered in deciding the allocation of funds.
Among the Scandinavian countries, Finland has had the most experience
of performance-based funding,50 so let us consider its development.51
Most academic research in Finland is conducted in the Finnish univer-
sities, and is ﬁnanced by core funding from the Ministry of Education;
by peer-reviewed grants awarded by the four research councils under the
Academy of Finland; and by research contracts from industry and govern-
ment.52 The Ministry of Education uses a system known as ‘Management
by Results’, introduced in 1994, in which a small proportion of every
budget is based on an assessment of performance. This was followed by
the adoption in 1998 of three-year agreements that specify the outcomes
that each university is expected to achieve, and the levels of funding that
each receives. These three-year agreements are updated annually.
At present, the agreed areas of expenditure comprise basic (90%),
project (7%) and performance-related (only 3% at present, but expected to
increase funding). Basic funding covers salaries and facilities. A formu-
laic model for basic funding has been used since 1997, in which a
connection between teaching and research is made explicit. The teaching
component is represented by target numbers of Master’s degrees, and the
research element by target numbers of doctoral degrees. Project funding
is earmarked for programmes that the government deﬁnes. Performance-
related funding is awarded on the basis of quality and impact indicators,
and has been used to establish centres of excellence;53 to increase interna-
50 E. Helander, ‘Evaluation Activities in the Nordic Countries’, Scientometrics,34(3),
(1995), 391–400; and T. Luukkonen, ‘The Impacts of Research Field Evaluations on
Research Practice’, Research Policy, 24 (3), (1995), 349–365.
51 This section is based on information derived from Ministry of Education, Manage-
ment by Result, http://www.minedu.ﬁ/eopm/hep (no date, accessed 15 November 2001).
52 Polytechnics neither engage in research nor offer postgraduate education.
53 In 1993, a policy to create centres of research excellence was introduced. A ‘centre
of excellence’ could be either a research group or centre, or a larger umbrella organi-
zation or network. The Academy of Finland, FINHEEC, and the Ministry of Education
UNIVERSITY RESEARCH EVALUATION AND FUNDING 289
tional collaboration; to improve graduate placement; and to meet planning
The Academy of Finland has been evaluating research performance
since the 1970s, focusing mainly on individual scientists, projects, and
teams. Initially, there was little by way of a systematic, nationwide ex
post evaluation of research,54 However, beginning in the 1980s, there have
been evaluations of about twenty ﬁelds, including inorganic chemistry (in
1983), automation technology (1986), legal science (1994), and molecular
biology and biotechnology (1997). These have focused on international
outcomes. They have been driven more by a desire to improve the quality
of science than by the need to make funding decisions.
The Finland Higher Education Evaluation Council (FINHEEC), estab-
lished in 1995, conducts evaluations of three main kinds: institutional;
programme/thematic; and accreditation. None of these is targeted speciﬁc-
ally at research, however. Nor do institutional evaluations use a uniform
model for all universities. On the contrary, the government recognizes
differences between universities and emphasizes the developmental role
of evaluation. As a result, most evaluations are broad assessments of
basic preconditions for teaching and research and the capacity for change.
These include statements of an institution’s mission, processes, institu-
tional arrangements, resources, and performance. Less attention is paid
to the latter two factors. Emphasis varies across universities; one might
highlight its teaching, another, its regional role.
FINHEEC evaluations take place in three phases. First, each univer-
sity carries out a self-evaluation and prepares a report, which is assessed
by an external team that visits the university and then produces a ﬁnal
report. Academy evaluations, however, proceed differently. In the case
of electronics research, for example, the Academy of Finland commis-
sioned an evaluation in 1985 from the Research Council of Natural Science
and Engineering. A committee was set up and two international experts
appointed. The scope was limited to certain pre-deﬁned sub-areas, in
which twenty-eight university groups were identiﬁed and evaluated with
are responsible for the selection, which involves international evaluation in six categories:
national/international standing of researchers; scientiﬁc signiﬁcance (i.e., innovativeness
and effectiveness of research); quality, quantity, and focus of scientiﬁc production; patents;
national and international mobility of researchers; and number and level of foreign
researchers. By 1997, seventeen research units had been designated centres of excellence
and received extra funds. Recently, the differing nature of disciplines has been taken into
account with general criteria being adjusted to each.
54 B. Felderer and D.F.J. Campbell, Evaluation der Akademischen Forschung (Vienna:
Institute for Advanced Studies, 1998).
290 ALDO GEUNA AND BEN R. MARTIN
1. mission, vision, and goals;
2. efﬁciency in using resources;
3. scientiﬁc competence and degree of innovativeness;
4. technological competence and cooperation with other researchers,
industry, and users;
5. the national/international importance of results for the scientiﬁc
6. the relevance of a group’s research for industry.
As with FINHEEC, evaluations were conducted in three phases. A ques-
tionnaire was distributed to groups and, having examined the results, eval-
uators interviewed each group, summarizing their ﬁndings (in English).
Groups were given opportunity to comment. In a report entitled, ‘Manage-
ment by Result’, the Ministry of Education proposed a performance-based
mechanism similar to that of the UK’s RAE, and suggested that 35 per
cent of funds should be allocated on the basis of research performance.55
It advocated that all university groups be evaluated by the Academy of
Finland every three years, using peer review, with research units being
graded on a ﬁve-point scale, which should be used to determine the funds
they receive. The suggestion was criticized by almost all the universities,
and the proposal was ‘frozen’ by the Ministry. The main objection was that
the mechanism would give the Academy undue inﬂuence.56
Eastern Europe: Hungary, Poland, and the Slovak Republic
After 1945, the national research systems in Eastern Europe were based on
the Soviet tripartite model, according to which the universities focused on
teaching; basic research was conducted in Academy institutes; and applied
research was done either in Academy institutes or government ministries.57
Governments also adopted the Soviet system of block grants to institutes,
by which scientist-administrators had great power over the distribution of
funds. Favouritism often led to poor research.58 During the last ten years,
with the development of open market economies, this system has changed.
The autonomy of science, recognized by self-evaluation and peer review –
but subordinated to central planning during the Communist era – has been
restored. Research evaluation has emerged as a tool to examine how and
55 E. Kaukonen, ‘Evaluation of Scientiﬁc Research in Finland’, in OECD (ed.), The
Evaluation of Scientiﬁc Research: Selected Experiences (Paris: OECD, 1997), 12–25.
57 M.S. Frankel and J. Cave, ‘Introduction’, in M.S. Frankel and J. Cave (eds.),
Evaluating Science and Scientists: An East-West Dialogue on Research Evaluation in
Post-Communist Europe (Budapest: Central European University Press, 1997), 1–6.
UNIVERSITY RESEARCH EVALUATION AND FUNDING 291
where to cut budgets without destroying research. Peer review has become
the main instrument.59
Whilst national systems have experienced major changes, the Aca-
demies continue to play a major role in research, and evaluations have
focused on the institutes.60 Almost every year, for example, the Hungarian
Academy of Sciences has conducted a comprehensive review of its insti-
tutes. The evaluation in 1992 had a special importance because it coincided
with an economic crisis and a cut-back in funds. The study evaluated each
of the several institutes, using peer review and quantitative indicators. The
idea was to support a more selective distribution. This led to a number of
recommendations concerning the Academy’s network, its management of
resources, and the need for organizational change.61
In the Slovak Republic, the Academy of Sciences and the universities
set up an accreditation committee in 1992 to evaluate Academy institutes
and departments. For the institutes, the following indicators were used:
1. publications during the previous ﬁve years, classiﬁed by type, with ten
2. citations (in the SCI) during the previous ﬁve years;
3. memberships of editorial boards; and
4. participation in conferences, membership of international science
organizations, and relations with the international science community
(e.g., co-operative agreements and joint projects).62
Based on these data, the institutes were graded. In the case of university
departments, the same indicators were supplemented by:
1. qualiﬁcations of teaching staff;
2. numbers of postgraduate students;
3. research activities of senior staff; and
4. subsequent employment of graduates, together with numbers of appli-
cations from foreign students.
Since 1992, such evaluations have been conducted every three years.
Faculties are classiﬁed into one of four grades which, when combined with
student numbers, determine the amount of money each receives.63
59 See K. Hangos, ‘The Limits of Peer Review: The Case of Hungary’, in Frankel and
Cave (eds.), op. cit. note 57, 71–81; and P. Zilahy and I. L´
ang, ‘The Evaluation of Research
Institutes in Hungary’, in Frankel and Cave (eds.), op. cit. note 57, 82–92.
60 UNESCO-CEPES, Ten Years After and Looking Ahead: A Review of the Transforma-
tions of Higher Education in Central and Eastern Europe (Bucharest: UNESCO-CEPES,
61 Zilahy and L´
ang, op. cit. note 59.
62 J. Tino, ‘Institutionalizing Evaluation of Research and Education in the Slovak
Republic’, in Frankel and Cave (eds.), op. cit. note 57, 166–169.
63 Personal communication from Stefan Zajac (June 1999).
292 ALDO GEUNA AND BEN R. MARTIN
In Poland, legislation in 1991 set up a new system for managing
research, led by a Committee for Scientiﬁc Research (CSR).64 The
chairman of the CSR is appointed by Parliament, and two-thirds of
its members are researchers elected by the scientiﬁc community (the
remainder being ministers). The CSR is responsible for science policy, and
for the distribution of funds through competitive channels. All institutions,
including university faculties, compete for funds through the CSR.
Polish universities compete for funds on the basis of student numbers
and through two CSR schemes. The ﬁrst is a grant system for indi-
viduals and teams, based on open competition and peer-review. The second
is so-called ‘statutory funding’, which is distributed to faculties within
universities on the basis of ex post evaluations. Each year, institutions
submit their past year’s achievements and a research plan for the coming
year. Assessments are conducted by expert panels who assign institutions
to a category. Allocations are decided by the CSR’s Committee for Basic
and Applied Research.65
Until recently, funding levels were determined by an algorithm using
a combination of quantitative and qualitative factors. However, the latter
were criticized for their subjectivity, and in 1998 a new formula was
introduced. This new ‘parametric system’ is almost entirely quantitative.
It consists of a number of points given for performance, Rp, and for so-
called general results, Rg. The total number, R = Rp+R
the number of staff (N) to yield an indicator of effectiveness (E). This
is the basis for, every three years, classifying institutions into one of ﬁve
grades, and for determining their level of funding. Recently, however, the
new formula has also been challenged, and it will probably be changed.
RESEARCH EVA L UA T I O N I N T H E ASIA-PACIFIC REGION
Much can be learned from recent developments in the Asia-Paciﬁc region.
In 2000, New Zealand began to allocate 20 per cent of its institutional
core research funding on the basis of peer-review evaluation (with the
remainder based on student numbers). If this experiment proves successful,
64 This discussion is based on J. Jablecka, ‘Changes in the Management and Finance of
the Research System in Poland: A Survey of the Opinions of Grant Applicants’, Social
Studies of Sciences, 25 (4), (1995), 727–753, and on personal communication with J.
Jablecka (June 1999).
65 The relative proportion of funds received in classes A, B, and C is, respectively,
1.151, 0.951, and 0.550 – see Committee for Scientiﬁc Research (KBN), http://www.
kbn.gov.pl/en/general/reseval.html (accessed 31 August 2001). Institutes of the Polish
Academy of Sciences and other government research establishments are ﬁnanced
according to the same formula and evaluation criteria as university faculties.
UNIVERSITY RESEARCH EVALUATION AND FUNDING 293
it is intended to increase the proportion from 20 to 80 per cent. In Australia
and Hong Kong, there are national research evaluations, and both use their
results in allocating funds.66 Assessment in Australia is concerned mainly
with research grant incomes and research output indicators, but Hong Kong
uses a scheme similar to the UK’s RAE.
Since a so-called ‘Uniﬁed National System’ was introduced into Australia
in 1988, the number of universities eligible for research funding has
nearly trebled. The Commonwealth government provides funds through
a dual-support system,67 consisting of an institutional operating grant
and speciﬁc research grants. Institutional funds are currently given as
block grants by the Department of Education, Science and Training,
with universities having constitutional discretion over internal distribu-
tion. Grants for speciﬁc projects are awarded by agencies such as the
Australian Research Council (ARC) and the National Health and Medical
Research Council (NHMRC). The former operates the National Compe-
titive Grants Program, which includes funding for ‘Discovery Projects’
and for ‘Linkage Projects’ aimed at supporting collaborative research with
Peer review is the main method for allocating speciﬁc grants, but a
formula is used to distribute core funding.68 Under a ‘Relative Funding
Model’, introduced in 1990, funding for teaching was based on student
numbers, while research support was measured by a ‘Research Quantum’,
based on success in winning Commonwealth Competitive Grants. When it
was recognized that this did not fully represent research performance, the
criteria were broadened to include other sources of funding. In addition,
measures other than funding – such as publications and higher degree
completion rates – were incorporated in the formula.
In 1993, the Minister for Education announced that, as from 1995, the
Research Quantum would be allocated on the basis of a new Composite
Index. From 1998, the Department of Education, Training and Youth
Affairs (DETYA), and subsequently the Department of Education, Science
and Training (DEST), has been responsible for collecting data for the
66 H. Atkinson and W.F. Massy, ‘Quantitative Funding Models’, in Massy, op. cit. note 2,
245–266; and P. Bourke, Evaluating University Research: The British Research Assessment
Exercise and Australian Practice, Commissioned Report No. 56 (Canberra: National Board
of Employment, Education and Training, 1997).
67 Over 80% of university research is funded by the Commonwealth government. Other
funders are state and local governments, industry, non-proﬁt organizations, and over-
seas providers – see Industry Commission, Research and Development Report No. 44
(Canberra: AGPS, 1995), vol. 1.
294 ALDO GEUNA AND BEN R. MARTIN
Composite Index; for calculating allocations; and for advising the Minister
on the Index and the weighting of elements within it. Both input and output
measures are incorporated in the Composite Index, as follows:
1. research inputs (funding):
a) each university’s funding from Commonwealth competitive grants;
b) other public-sector research funding; and
c) industry and other research funding.
2. research outputs:
a) scholarly publications by staff and students; and
b) higher degrees (Masters and PhDs) completed.
The components of the Index have been weighted differently from year
to year. If, for example, university X’s shares of national funding, public-
ations, and completed higher degrees, averaged over the last two years,
are 4.5 per cent, 3.6 per cent, and 5.3 per cent, respectively, then its
Composite Index is obtained by multiplying the share by the corresponding
weighting for each component (80%, 10%, and 10% respectively in 1999),
and then adding them together. The Composite Index of University X
represents its share of the total research activities for all universities, and
its Research Quantum allocation is the Composite Index multiplied by the
total Research Quantum available.
As compared with the UK’s RAE, the Australian Research Quantum
system is mechanistic. Research performance is evaluated solely on
the basis of quantitative measures – that is, on volume, not quality.
It is ‘conﬁned to counting annually the gross number of undifferenti-
ated entrants each institution can place in the classiﬁcation categories
which are weighted for funding purposes’.69 In 1994, the Australian
Vice-Chancellors’ Committee proposed that qualitative aspects should be
incorporated. This was taken further in 1997 by Paul Bourke, who noted
that the UK’s RAE fulﬁls three functions – serving as a competitive
source of discretionary income, as a reward for quality and/or volume of
output, and as an instrument of policy. By contrast, the Research Quantum
performs only the second of these; it does not reward quality, and is
seldom used as an instrument of policy. Bourke proposed a funding mech-
anism that would combine the Research Quantum with the ‘professional
judgement’ element of the RAE.70 However, this has not materialized.
It is argued that, as funding generated through the Research Quantum
has become vital to the universities, any major change will need careful
69 Bourke, op. cit. note 66, 25.
UNIVERSITY RESEARCH EVALUATION AND FUNDING 295
Higher education in Hong Kong is publicly funded through the Univer-
sity Grants Committee (UGC), a non-statutory body that acts as adviser
to government. Research is funded through a dual-support system.72 The
UGC provides institutional funding, while the Research Grants Council
(RGC), which operates under the aegis of the UGC, allocates project
grants based on international peer review.73 The research component of
core funding is allocated on the basis of performance, using (since 1993)
a mechanism similar to the UK’s RAE.74 In 1993, UK experts gave
advice, and Hong Kong adopted the same name – the Research Assessment
Three RAEs have been carried out by the UGC – in 1993, 1996, and
1999. Their aim has been ‘to measure the output and quality of research
of the UGC-funded institutions by cost centre as the basis for allocating
some of the research portion of the institutional recurrent grant for the
next triennium in a publicly accountable way’. In 1999, the unit of analysis
was a set of 58 ‘cost centres’, and each university department or research
unit was required to map onto these. The cost centres were evaluated by
a number of panels, and the results were used to determine institutional
research funding levels.
ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES OF PERFORMANCE-BASED
So far, we have identiﬁed a continuum of approaches towards research
funding. At one extreme, we ﬁnd the pure performance-based, ex post
model; at the other, the allocation of resources is based on educational
size. Few countries have implemented the ﬁrst approach, but among them,
Britain has led the way.76 In the 1980s, British research policies aimed at
accountability and selectivity. In the 1990s, however, came models based
on some form of assessment. In each case, the academic community has
72 This section is based on N.J. French, W.F. Massy, P.K. Ko, H.F.H. Siu, and K. Young,
‘Research Assessment in Hong Kong’, Journal of International Education, 10 (1), (1998);
and UGC, Research Assessment Exercise 1999, Guidance Notes (Hong Kong: University
Grants Committee, 1999).
73 Research Grants Committee, ‘Refutation of Article in ‘Next’ Magazine of 9 October
1998’, http://www.ug.edu.hk/RGC/documents/E_XNEXT.html (accessed 20 July 1999).
74 UGC, op. cit. note 72.
75 French et al., op. cit. note 72.
76 Geuna, op. cit. note 3.
296 ALDO GEUNA AND BEN R. MARTIN
resisted certain criteria, and has been guarded in its acceptance of any
model that links evaluation with funding.
At present, we lack data on inputs and outputs over a sufﬁciently long
period to assess the success of the several different systems. Nonetheless,
we can offer some preliminary thoughts on the advantages and shortcom-
ings of the two principal approaches to university research funding (see
Given the inherent difﬁculties in evaluating institutions, there will
always be reasons for opposing a performance-based approach to funding.
Its main virtue lies in the assumption that it is ostensibly meritocratic,
rewarding success and improving quality. A performance-based system
can, it is said, increase efﬁciency in the short term. It may also provide
greater accountability. It gives a mechanism to link research to policy,
a way to shift priorities across ﬁelds, and a rational method of moving
resources from less well-performing areas to areas where they can be used
to greater effect.77
While these arguments have their merits, a performance-based system
has drawbacks. First, obtaining reliable and comparable information is
costly. Assessments based on peer review are especially labour-intensive,
when all a nation’s universities and their constituent departments have to be
judged. Nor do indicator-based approaches offer a shortcut; if conclusions
are to be robust, data must be accurate and reliable.78
Second, a performance-based funding system, because it encourages
competition, may also encourage a shift towards the ‘homogenization’ of
research, discouraging experiments with new approaches, and rewarding
‘safe’ research, irrespective of its beneﬁts to society.79 The resulting
decrease in diversity may be harmful. Moreover, a system that has
publication as a key criterion encourages ‘publication inﬂation’.80 Some
academics will almost certainly respond by ‘game playing’ without neces-
sarily improving performance.81
Third, performance-based funding can widen the gap between research
and teaching. If rewards for research are greater than rewards for teaching,
academics will focus on the former at the expense of the latter. While the
77 Assessments also give leading departments a ‘marketing’ tool to attract top
researchers and students.
78 P. Bourke, and B. Martin, Evaluating University Research Performance – What
Approach? What Unit of Analysis? (Canberra: ANU and Brighton: SPRU, 1992).
79 E.g., A. Thomson, ‘RAE Faces Axe in DTI Review’, The Times Higher Education
Supplement, 1408, 29 October 1999, 1.
80 See note 32.
81 E.g., D. Cannadine, ‘Flaws of Supply with No Demand’, The Times Higher Education
Supplement, 1381, 23 April 1999, 18–19.
UNIVERSITY RESEARCH EVALUATION AND FUNDING 297
Advantages and drawbacks of alternative approaches to university research funding
Performance-based – ‘meritocratic’ in that it links resources to performance,
rewarding good research
– strong incentive to improve individual as well as institu-
– competition may lead to increased efﬁciency – ineffective
research identiﬁed and cut
– encourages research to be properly completed and written
up for wider dissemination
– provides public accountability for government funds
invested in research
– encourages more explicit/coherent research strategy on
part of department or institution
– provides mechanism for linking university research to
government policy (e.g., to shift priorities)
– concentration of resources may enable best departments to
compete with world leaders (e.g., in US)
– high cost and labour intensity (whether peer review or
indicator-based) for universities and evaluating agencies
–may⇒‘homogenization’ of research and universities –
i.e., decrease in diversity and experimentation
– may discourage more innovative and risky research
– encourages ‘publication inﬂation’ (e.g., ‘salami publish-
ing’) and other ‘game playing’ (e.g., with indicators) – i.e.,
‘looking good’ rather than necessarily doing better
– may encourage traditional ‘academic’ research at expense
of research linked to society’s needs
– tends to separate research from teaching ⇒lower priority
– rewards past performance not current or future poten-
tial ⇒reinforces research elite/status quo – may ⇒over-
– may lead to excessive government inﬂuence/‘interference’
in university research
298 ALDO GEUNA AND BEN R. MARTIN
Educational size – low cost to administer
– provides departments with ‘seed corn’ funds to invest in
new people/research areas
– provides ‘space’ for long-term research and scholarship
– encourages diversity in research
– enables academics at any university (not just an elite few)
to get involved in research
– encourages integration of teaching and research so can
exploit synergy between them
– protects autonomy of institutions and individuals
– little direct incentive to improve research performance
(whether individual or institutional) – may ⇒stagnation
– may give excessive power to ofﬁcials who distribute core
funding within institution
– little public accountability for funds (notionally) provided
for research – may ⇒‘ivory tower’ research with no social
or other relevance
– may reinforce public stereotype that some academics are
– may be little or no correlation between student numbers
and level of research effort by department
– distribution of resources/effort may bear little relationship
to stated government policy
– spreading resources evenly but thinly may ⇒unable to
compete with world-leading institutions
UNIVERSITY RESEARCH EVALUATION AND FUNDING 299
intention is to reward and encourage, assessment inevitably focuses on past
rather than current performance, let alone future potential. In consequence,
the status quo is reinforced. Institutions that have done well in the past
may continue to attract a disproportionate share of resources, perhaps
depriving others of the chance to become leaders in their ﬁeld. Finally,
a performance-based system, by making it easier for government to shift
priorities, can lead to an excessive level of government inﬂuence. For
many, autonomy is vital to the health of research and higher education.82
On the other hand, funding systems based on educational size have cer-
tain advantages. Such systems are simple and cheap to operate, requiring
only comparable data on student and staff numbers. The model implies
that institutions and departments have ‘seed corn’ to invest in staff or new
(or weaker) areas. If researchers need not focus exclusively on research
assessment, they may be inclined to favour more fundamental, longer-
term and ‘risky’ projects. A system based on size also offers opportunities
to all institutions, whatever their reputation, adding to the diversity of
approaches. Where research funds depend on teaching, the system encour-
ages the integration of teaching and research to the beneﬁt of both.
High-quality teaching attracts students, increases the size of the institution,
and the ﬂow of research funds. Finally, a system based on size offers insti-
tutions and individuals greater autonomy, a feature that many academics
There are, however, drawbacks to the ‘size’ alternative. As Table I
shows, the disadvantages of a system based on size mirror the advantages
of a performance-based system. A system that awards research resources
on the basis of teaching gives little incentive to improve research perfor-
mance. Over time, this can bring stagnation, a situation familiar in the
former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Moreover, the system can give
excessive power to ofﬁcials, reﬂecting ‘politics’ rather than performance.
The system also affords less accountability. It may also encourage ‘ivory
tower’ research, and so reinforce stereotypes about ‘lazy’ academics.
Finally, an institution devoted to teaching that receives as much funding
for research as does an institution of similar size that elects to devote itself
to research, is bound to raise questions of equity as well as efﬁciency.
With a system based on size, there is a strong chance that the distri-
bution of research resources may bear little relationship to policy. For
example, burgeoning numbers of students in media studies would produce
a rapid increase in that ﬁeld’s research resources, irrespective of whether
media studies is actually deemed a research priority. Conversely, a reduc-
82 See J. Ziman, Real Science: What It Is, and What It Means (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 2000).
300 ALDO GEUNA AND BEN R. MARTIN
tion in numbers choosing to study physics could translate into a reduction
in research funding, regardless of whether this is in line with govern-
ment policy. Above all, the allocation of funds by size is likely, in all but
the richest of countries, to result in spreading resources too thinly, with
the consequence that no institution is able to compete successfully with
DOTHEBENEFITS OUTWEIGH THE COSTS?
Over the past decade, many governments have pursued a policy of greater
selectivity and concentration. In Britain, as elsewhere, an elitist system of
higher education has been overtaken by a system of ‘mass’ higher educa-
tion, in which the number of universities has increased. Unless there is
a similar increase in funding, research resources will be spread too thinly.
However, any such increases are unlikely, so performance-based, research-
funding systems could be used to concentrate resources – notably, at a
small number of universities, which will then stand a better chance of
competing with leading institutions abroad.83
Over the past decade, there has been a trend towards such performance-
based systems. Do the beneﬁts outweigh the costs? Although the lack of
data on inputs and outputs makes a proper cost-beneﬁt analysis difﬁcult,
we can begin to offer an answer. When assessment is introduced, it usually
meets opposition. Many academics see it as a temporary aberration that
will disappear once politicians and ‘bureaucrats’ recognize its defects.
Figure 1 indicates how beneﬁts and costs may vary over time. Most bene-
ﬁts will not accrue for some years – hence, the beneﬁt curve is shown
as rising gradually from zero, then accelerating. By contrast, the costs
of introducing the assessment will be substantial. A procedure must be
designed, negotiated, and agreed. Universities must adopt procedures for
compiling information. A peer review system must be constructed, and
peers must spend time judging performance. Thus, for an initial period,
the costs will probably outweigh the beneﬁts.
Over time, however, the beneﬁts of a performance-based system will
grow. When carried out a second time, academics will accept that assess-
ment is here to stay. Some will have begun to reap resources from the
ﬁrst assessment, encouraging them to improve their research. Under this
model, weaker groups will be identiﬁed, and resources will be shifted to
more productive groups, thereby enhancing the ‘efﬁciency’ of the system.
Universities will develop clearer goals and strategies, although a few years
83 C. Sanders, ‘Research-Rich Elite Wins Cash’, The Times Higher Education Supple-
ment, 1428, 24 March 2000, 6–7.
UNIVERSITY RESEARCH EVALUATION AND FUNDING 301
may elapse before the full beneﬁts emerge. At some point, beneﬁts may
come to exceed costs, so the beneﬁt curve in Figure 1 is shown as rising
above the cost curve.
Later, however, increases in beneﬁts will begin to level off. Although it
is difﬁcult to produce evidence, our impression, based on the UK’s exper-
ience, is that after a number of exercises, the level of beneﬁts reaches a
peak, and then encounters diminishing returns.84 The conspicuously weak
performers have been identiﬁed, and the strategies put in place as the ﬁrst
or second assessment have taken effect, so that scope for further gains is
limited. Hence, the beneﬁt curve in Figure 1 is shown as falling away,
although at an ever-decreasing rate.
84 This claim might appear to be contradicted by the results of the UK’s RAE in 2001,
which show a large increase in the percentage of academics in units receiving the top
∗(55% compared with 31% in 1996, and 23% in 1992). The
Higher Education Funding Councils claim that this represents a genuine improvement
in research, citing, in support, the views of the 300 international peers consulted, and
unpublished bibliometric data showing that the impact of UK publications has increased
since 1996 compared with the world average (Anon., ‘Selectivity Raises Scores Across the
Board’, The Times Higher Education Supplement, 1517, 14 December 2001, 3). However,
some believe that at least part of the apparent improvement is due to the preparation
of better RAE submissions, as academics have learnt to ‘play the game’ (see Anon.,
‘Researchers Rise to the Challenge of Excellence’, idem., 26). Moreover, other published
bibliometric data show no signiﬁcant improvement in the impact of UK publications over
the past 10–15 years compared with the rest of the world. See Observatoire des Sciences
et des Techniques, Science & Technologie Indicateurs 2002 (Paris: Economica, 2002),
203, Table 3.22. Hence, exactly how much of the improved ratings reﬂects a genuine
improvement in performance remains unclear.
302 ALDO GEUNA AND BEN R. MARTIN
What of the costs? Figure 1 shows the cost curve as monotonically
(although not necessarily linearly) rising. There are a number of reasons
for this. First, as funding comes to depend more upon assessment, methods
will be improved, and more effort will be devoted to submissions. Second,
as more improve their performance, an ‘arms race’ or ‘Red Queen effect’
will result, by which, as competitors become stronger (or learn to ‘play
the game’), everyone will need to run faster just to stand still. Some of
the drawbacks listed in Table I, and their associated ‘costs’, are likely to
discourage risky and longer-term research.85
If these assumptions are valid, the beneﬁt curve will at some point fall
below the cost curve.86 From then on, costs will exceed beneﬁts. In the
meantime, we have assumed that the peak of the beneﬁt curve rises above
the cost curve. But what if this is not the case? Figure 2 suggests what
the respective curves might then look like. The beneﬁt curve has a similar
shape but a lower peak, so that it never rises above the cost curve. In
this case, the cost ‘curve’ is shown as monotonically decreasing, because in
85 For example, a survey at Warwick University has revealed that young researchers
feel under pressure to choose topics to suit the perceived preferences of RAE panels,
and that this pressure was more widespread in 2001 than in the previous RAE. See A.
Goddard, ‘RAE Under Fire for “Pressurising” Researchers’, The Times Higher Education
Supplement, 1499, 10 August 2001, 4. See also M.J. Larkin, ‘Pressure to Publish Stiﬂes
Young Talent’, Nature, 397 (6719), (1999), 467.
86 Each notional curve is summed over all the institutionsparticipating in the assessment,
and takes into account the costs and time of those engaged in carrying out the assessment.
UNIVERSITY RESEARCH EVALUATION AND FUNDING 303
such circumstances, assessment would be seen as not worth the effort.
Even if required by funding agencies, academics would merely ‘go through
the motions’. If such assessments were imposed, universities would ﬁnd
ways of doing less work to satisfy assessors. However, once the beneﬁt
curve began to fall off, assessments would be discontinued.87
Do the actual cost and beneﬁt curves resemble those in Figure 1 or
Figure 2? The short answer is that we cannot be sure. However, in countries
where assessments have been in operation longest (notably, the UK), the
beneﬁts listed in Table I are real and substantial. For a while, beneﬁts prob-
ably do exceed costs. It is signiﬁcant that more countries have introduced
performance-based systems to allocate at least some of their resources. Yet,
even if Figure 1 reﬂects the relative beneﬁts and costs better than Figure 2,
at a certain time, the beneﬁts are likely to fall below the costs again. For a
while, beneﬁts in the UK may well have risen above costs, but the beneﬁt
curve has probably peaked, and diminishing returns have perhaps set in.88
One can only speculate whether the beneﬁt curve has yet fallen below the
cost curve. However, support for this comes from suggestions that the 2001
RAE may be the last of its kind – or that if it is kept, it will be re-designed
so as to reduce its expense.89
Given the substantial (and perhaps increasing) costs of a fully
performance-based system, it is worth pointing to the advantages of a
‘hybrid’ system, based partly on performance (incentive-creating) and
partly on educational size (cost-minimizing). The Netherlands, Finland,
and Denmark have such systems. In addition, there is a danger with assess-
ments like the British RAE that focus upon a one-dimensional concept of
quality, and which link the results directly to funding. In The Netherlands,
by contrast, peer review is used to assess performance in four dimen-
sions – scientiﬁc quality, scientiﬁc productivity, scientiﬁc relevance, and
long-term viability – and rankings are not directly linked to funding. The
greater breadth of this quality measurement encourages greater diversity,
which is undoubtedly an advantage in helping to ensure the ‘health’ of
a nation’s academic research.90 The absence of any direct connection
between funding and output generates many of the advantages identiﬁed in
87 Some suggest that this is the situation in regard to the Teaching Quality Assessments,
to which UK universities are also subject.
88 See note 84.
89 See Thomson, op. cit. note 80; A. Goddard, ‘Hands-Off Approach for Top Research’,
The Times Higher Education Supplement, 1431, 14 April 2000, 68; and R. Floud, ‘Univer-
sities Are Sinking Under Inspection Load’, The Times Higher Education Supplement,
1479, 23 March 2001, 16.
90 Cf. Royal Academy of Engineering, Measuring Excellence in Engineering Research
(London: Royal Academy of Engineering, 2000).
304 ALDO GEUNA AND BEN R. MARTIN
Table I (e.g., protecting autonomy, encouraging the integration of teaching
and research). For countries contemplating a performance-based system,
such a hybrid approach may offer better prospects for the future, than the
more expensive methods used in the UK.
This project was supported by the Higher Education Funding Council of
England. This paper derives from a report by A. Geuna, D. Hidayat, and B.
Martin, Resource Allocation and Research Performance: The Assessment
of Research (Brighton: SPRU, 1999). The authors are extremely grateful to
Dudi Hidayat who provided research assistance, and who co-authored the
report. They would also like to thank Ammon Salter, as well as the Editor
of Minerva, and three anonymous referees for their comments.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Aldo Geuna is a Senior Lecturer at SPRU, University of Sussex. He has been
a Research Fellow at BETA, Université Louis Pasteur (Strasbourg 1), and at
MERIT, Maastricht University. He obtained his PhD from Maastricht Univer-
sity. His research interests include the economics of knowledge production and
distribution, science and technology policy, and the economics of innovation and
technological change. He has written The Economics of Knowledge Production
(Edward Elgar, 1999) and has co-edited Science and Innovation: Rethinking the
Rationales for Funding and Governance (Edward Elgar, 2003).
Ben Martin is Professor in Science and Technology Policy Studies, and
Director of SPRU (Science and Technology Policy Research) at the University
of Sussex. With John Irvine, he helped establish techniques for the evaluation of
scientiﬁc laboratories, research programmes, and national science. He also pion-
eered the concept of ‘foresight’ as a policy instrument, and served as a member
of the Steering Group for the UK Foresight Programme from 1993 to 2000. His
recent work includes an analysis of the beneﬁts from government funding of basic
SPRU – Science and Technology Policy Research
The Freeman Centre
University of Sussex
Falmer, Brighton, Sussex BN1 9QE