An exercise in futility 2

December 11, 2008

With the RAE results due, the media are likely readying themselves to compute and publish corresponding league tables. However it is far from clear how, or even if, this can be done in any fair and meaningful way, given that the Higher Education Statistics Agency has, apparently through a real or anticipated legal challenge, drawn back from publishing the proportion of eligible staff that were omitted from submission.

This appears to make it difficult - perhaps impossible - to construct any fair and meaningful league table that includes units such as my own, which submitted 100 per cent of the eligible staff, alongside others that omitted staff.

The worry is that league tables might thus be drawn up based purely on some single index (such as a mean, or a more sophisticated formula) for each unit's profile for submitted staff only. Clearly such a league table will be misleading to the point of being meaningless if some units have omitted significant numbers of staff.

Such staff will have been excluded because of anticipated low scores, so clearly the average or profile for those submitted will not reflect the true research worth of the unit as a whole. The word on the street is that much behind-the-scenes wrangling about such issues has taken place between such bodies as the Russell Group, the 1994 Group, the Higher Education Funding Council for England, Hesa and key media, but I have yet to see any serious public discussion or resolution of the concern I outline here.

Andrew Whiten, Wardlaw professor of psychology, University of St Andrews.

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