ESRC Benchmarking Review

Neil Rickman, University of Surrey reports on the ESRC’s international benchmarking review of economics, some of which centred on the Society’s Annual Conference last month.

Other items related to this theme, published in the Newsletter, include:
Teaching evidence-based economics (October 2013)
The rediscovery of Classical economics (July 2013)
Teaching economics after the crisis (April 2013)
What’s the use of economics (October 2012)
Evidence on the future of economics (July 2007)
Economics should look eastward (October 2006)
Jochen Runde replies ( October 2006)

As announced in the Newsletter of October 2007, the ESRC is undertaking a rolling review of its core disciplines to measure them against international standards. The objective is to help identify areas of strength, weakness and potential within disciplines in order to inform funding strategies into the future. Having completed the International Benchmarking Reviews (IBRs) of UK Social Anthropology and Politics and International Relations,1 this important process has now turned attention to Economics. Whilst previous reviews have travelled to regional centres to meet academics and departments, the Economics Steering Group (chaired by John Vickers) preferred to base the review at this year’s RES conference at Warwick last month. This was to reduce the burden on the Review Panel (thus attracting the highest calibre of reviewers) and to ensure that Panel was able to participate in a major event for the UK discipline (thus providing additional information on our activities). Having now completed its conference visit, the Panel is in the process of drafting its report, to be submitted over the Summer.

The rationale for basing the review at the RES conference certainly appears to have paid dividends. The Panel itself is of exceptional quality: its Chair is Professor Elhanan Helpman (Harvard), and the other members are Professor Hyun Song Shin (Princeton), Professor Philippe Weil (Université Libre de Bruxelles), Professor Manuel Arellano (CEMFI, Madrid), Professor Andreu Mas Collel (Universitat Pompeu Fabra) and Professor Guido Tabellini (Universitat Bocconi). The ESRC estimates that the Panel met 120 of us, plus PhD students and numerous Users, in formal meetings (described below) and all were able to attend keynote speeches (with Professor Song giving the XXXXl Lecture). The Panel was also able to attend the Conference Dinner.

Prior to arrival, the Panel received background information on HE funding in the UK, bibliometrics and other statistics along with the results from a survey of users.2 Much of this was commissioned by the ESRC but it also included the RES’s bibliometric study (Vasilakos, Lanot and Worrall) and its Gender and Ethnic Balance survey (Georgiadis and Manning). The visit itself was structured around meetings with researchers from particular sub-fields (selected following discussion with the Panel), each lasting two hours. For each of these, a briefing paper was commissioned from a lead researcher in the sub-field. Thus, there were sessions on Financial Economics, Labour Economics, IO, Development Economics, International Economics, Public Economics (including Health, Environment and Education), Econometrics, Macro and Monetary Economics, and Micro Theory. Meetings were structured around themes that related to the quality of research, international comparisons, student training (at undergraduate and postgraduate), applied research, interdepartmental and interdisciplinary cooperation and the level of research funding. These sub-field meetings were supplemented by meetings with a selection of Heads of Department, the RES Women’s Committee, PhD students and (outside the conference) a selection Government departments (including the Governor of the Bank of England, and Denise Osborn, RAE sub-panel chair).

Overall, the visit went smoothly. Obviously, we await the outcome with interest but in the meantime it is appropriate to thank all those who wrote briefings and who participated in the Panel’s meetings, as well as those who organised and participated in a successful and impressive conference. Along with academic input, we also received excellent support from Users (attendees at Panel meetings and Survey respondents), with particular thanks to Vicky Pryce, Chris Giles and Charlie Bean, who played active roles in helping to arrange the User meetings in London and gave valuable advice on the Survey. We are also grateful to the Bank of England for hosting several events on the Panel's final day and, of course, for the Governor’s time and input. The ESRC is running the review and (through Faye Auty and Pui Chan) lent valuable organisational support before and during the visit. Finally, of course, our thanks to the Panel for its time and support during the review to date.


1. These reviews are available at

2. A submission was also received from the Association of Heterodox Economics.

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