Academy 'biases'

August 20, 2004

Peter Brown, the secretary of the British Academy, has clearly been reading a different version of the National Audit Office report on abuses of process in the Centenary Research Award Competition from everyone else (Letters, August 13).

He claims that the NAO did not find that the selection criteria were changed by the academy mid-competition. In fact, the NAO found "a difference between how the ideal project was described to the applicants and how it was described to assessors was a weakness in the academy's assessment process". The NAO "found inconsistencies in the description of the... project" and found that there were "weaknesses in the academy's processes for making the award".

If the criteria available to 86 competitors for a £2 million national competition are "different" from those used by the academy's assessors, the competition is surely invalid.

Further, the NAO castigates the academy for failing to ensure "that assessors understood the basis for declaring interests" and specifically did not exonerate the assessor for the Sussex project whose multiple conflicts of interest were well known to the academy.

Brown tries to back his misrepresentation of the NAO's report with data on the 25 per cent of fellowships and awards granted to women. What these scandalous statistics omit is the fact that the academy has almost entirely failed to represent ethnic minorities in its fellowship or funding.

Since the NAO investigation was "confined to the processes for administering the award" and could not cover any other matters, it is time now for an independent academic evaluation of both the Centenary award and the internal academic biases at work in the British Academy.

Vinita Damodaran and Richard Grove
Sussex University

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