The Council of Rectors of Portuguese Universities (CRUP) has completely demolished the assessment that the European Science Foundation (ESF) and the Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (FCT) are doing of all research units in the country. On the 24th of October the 15 rectors of CRUP released their consensus position which was the outcome of their meeting of October 14. This was sent to the Minister of Education and Science, Nuno Crato. Up to now the Minister has not given any known answer to the open letter, which has created a serious political embarrassment for the government.
This is the full content of the letter:
To his Excellency the Minister of Education and Science:
In our meeting of 14th October, CRUP analysed the current assessment process of Research Units, under the light of the responses given at the end of the hearing of the interested parties, and decided to inform you of the consensual conclusions stemming from that analysis.
To begin with, we want to make it quite clear that we are totally in favour of evaluation processes. They are essential to increase the quality of the system as a whole and, therefore, make it more able to respond to the expectations of society, helping Portugal's development.
However, for an assessment system to be able to promote excellence it must be, itself, at least excellent, if not exceptional. This is not the case.
We were aware, and we pointed it out from the very beginning, that an evaluation with a first stage without direct contact was potentially very fragile, but we gave the benefit of the doubt to the view repeatedly made by the people responsible for the evaluation that the system would be robust. We therefore expected that it would be capable of detecting its mistakes and of correcting them. The recent announcement of the results of the hearing of the interested parties revealed that this was not the case. Despite the many errors of judgement which were pointed out, many of them entirely factual, several panels have excused themselves in various ways to not derive from them the necessary consequences, keeping inexplicable evaluation scores. The non-presential evaluation of research units is, in our view, an absolute flop.
This evaluation process does not have the necessary quality. It is a lost opportunity for a national policy promoting advanced knowledge and is resulting in a serious loss of confidence in the assessment system, with the almost total disregard for the feedback from universities.
We state that we will refuse any attempt to use the results of this process for any other effect other than the direct evaluation of the research units, e.g. its use as one of the criteria for evaluating research projects, grants or any other funding applications.
We also refuse to accept the announced death of almost 50% of the Portuguese scientific system. This result, which was to be expected from the terms of the contract between the Portuguese State and the European Science Foundation (ESF), stating the transition to the second stage of only about 50% of the units, shows a bias which we can not accept. Excellence is a relative measure that arises only from a larger universe. If this universe does not exist, excellence will also be quickly extinguished for lack of a recruiting pool.
Evaluation processes should be separated from funding processes. After
the assessment, in case of lack of funding for all units with good marks, everyone would understand that it would not be possible to fund all, but at least the assessment would have been fair.
We would also like to express our uneasiness at the fact that, contrary to what had been agreed with the government, in the person of the Secretary of State for Science, we did not participate in the evaluation of the results of the hearing of the interested parties before the definition of the terms of access to the restructuring fund, which henceforth becomes another tool we do not trust. The access to this fund should not be based on the assessment whose errors it seeks to correct, or be decided by the party responsible for such errors.
By the same token, the participation of the ESF should not take place in the analysis of the claims (article 23 of the Regulation and Evaluation and Funding of Research Units) that various universities will present regarding the most serious situations.
We finish by reaffirming our availability to work so that it will be possible to have a global evaluation process with quality in the near future, in collaboration and with the agreement of the universities. This process is, after all, another demonstration that the artificial separation between higher education and science is harmful to the development of the country.
With best regards,
Presidents of CRUP (current)
President-elect of CRUP