Research Assessment Exercises: Exorcising Heterodox Apostasy from ‘Economics’

Ashwani Saith*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter/Conference proceedingChapterAcademic


The origins of the Research Assessment Exercises lay in politicians and mandarins wanting ‘value for money’ for the research grants they were dispensing. Viewed from Cambridge, however, the RAEs offered the orthodox economists an effective device to extend and intensify their ongoing campaign against the heterodox groups in the Faculty and the DAE. Cambridge economics, as the original habitat of heterodox economics, unsurprisingly had the highest concentration of heterodox economists compared to other UK departments of economics. One obituary candidly observed that “Hahn had been unable to affect changes in the way the Economics Faculty was run because he didn’t have the required tools. Those became available with the establishment of the Research Assessment Exercise and were used to bring about the necessary changes some years later” (Dasgupta, Obituary: Frank Hahn. Royal Economic Society Newsletter, 161, 2013). From his controlling position as President of the Royal Economic Society at the apex of the profession, Hahn could shape and instrumentalise the RAE process to suit his dual ends: to spread the gospel of neoclassical mathematical economics and simultaneously to clear out heterodoxy from Cambridge economics. The time frame of the early exercises dovetailed seamlessly with the ongoing Hahn-Matthews assault on Cambridge heterodox economics: in 1982, CEPG had been closed down; over the 1984–1987 period, the same fate befell the CGP; over the 1983–1987 period, in two phases, the DAE Review was the instrument that handed managerial control to the Hahn group, including the directorship of the DAE, adding to the recruitment of one of the ‘nephews’ from Uncle Frank’s ‘academy’ to a Cambridge professorship in 1985. This set the stage for initiating the final phase of the orthodox campaign, viz., of exorcising heterodox apostates, from the Faculty and leading Cambridge economics to the pristine purity of mathematical neoclassicism led by the other Cambridge. The chapter assesses the inherent biases and negative impacts of the RAEs and REFs and highlights how the Cambridge orthodox group came to exercise disproportionate decision-making influence over the exercises, effectively gaining the authority to decide what constituted ‘economics’, therefore who was an ‘economist’, what constituted ‘quality’ of research, how this was to be measured and certifying the practitioners who would pronounce on these issues. This orthodox stranglehold over RES-CHUDE-RAE decision-making—initiated by Hahn during his RES Presidency during 1986–1989, with preparatory groundwork in the preceding presidency of his partner Matthews during 1984–1986—was fully in evidence in the 1992, 2001, 2008 and 2014 rounds and visible in the RAE Economics Panels. The RAEs and REFs became an effective instrument for doctrinal control by orthodox mainstream economists working in tandem with departmental and university resource managers, not just in Cambridge but in the UK as a whole. In this, the controlling orthodox camp in the UK was imitating the methods of their American peers and principals who had already cleaned out their own ‘cesspool’, to borrow Dasgupta’s infelicitous term, of heterodoxy.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication Cambridge Economics in the Post-Keynesian Era
Subtitle of host publicationThe Eclipse of Heterodox Traditions
Number of pages53
Publication statusPublished - 2022

Publication series

SeriesPalgrave Studies in the History of Economic Thought

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG.


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