Scope: Across research systems worldwide, policymakers, universities, funders and publishers are grappling with how to measure and assess the qualities and impacts of research. Since the mid-1980s, there has been a steady escalation in the quantity, reach and sophistication of research assessment.
Several triggers lie behind this: pressure from governments for tighter audit and evaluation of public investment in research; demand by policymakers for more strategic intelligence on impacts and future priorities; the need for universities and other institutions to manage and develop their research portfolios; competition within and between institutions for prestige, students, staff and resources; increases in the availability of real-time ‘big data’ on research uptake; and the capacity of indicators, metrics and other tools for data analysis.
Architects and advocates of assessment point to accompanying increases in research productivity and quality. But the relationship to outcomes is intensely debated, and critics argue that the burdens of audit and assessment systems, and the pressures and incentives they create, are having corrosive effects on research cultures, qualities and values.
Thirty years after the UK’s first research assessment exercise took place in 1986, this rolling article collection will explore recent developments and debates in the UK and internationally, offering varied perspectives on the future of research assessment.