Judgement day

Many governments are assessing the quality of university research, much to the dismay of some researchers.

Two years ago, academics at Lancaster University, UK, found themselves in the uncomfortable position of being graded. They each had to submit the four best pieces of research that they had published in the previous few years, and then wait for months as small panels of colleagues — each containing at least one person from outside the university — judged the quality of the work. Those who failed their evaluations were offered various forms of help, including mentoring from a more experienced colleague, an early start on an upcoming sabbatical or a temporary break from teaching duties.

The university did not undertake this huge exercise just to make sure that the researchers were pulling their weight. The assessment was a drill to prepare for the Research Excellence Framework (REF), a massive evaluation of the quality of research at every university and public research institute in the United Kingdom, which is set to take place in 2014. Read more in Nature.