Astronomical effort 1

April 9, 2004

The article on Stuart McLeay's work ("Next RAE may demote 5*s", April 2) computes grade-point average (GPA) scores for the next research assessment exercise. It argues that there will be few departments that achieve the GPA needed to be the equivalent of a current 5*.

I presume this is based on the view that outputs will be rated as follows in 2008: 1* = sub-national, 2* = national, 3* = international, 4* = intergalactic. Since there are few intergalactic papers, it is likely that some of the 2001 5* depart-ments will be effectively down-rated.

Paradoxically, the 2008 system could allow departments rated at 4 in 2001 to rise to the equivalent of a 5. This is because we all have longer to produce the outputs for the 2008 RAE. This makes it easier to produce enough papers rated international (3*). That is, some departments rated at 4 in 2001 may become the equivalent of a 5 in 2008.

The combined effects could lead to a much larger group of departments with GPAs at a level equivalent to the old 5 rating. Thus, we could end up with hardly any top-rated departments, many highly rated ones and a smaller number of lower-rated units. This could make funding decisions very interesting indeed.

Mike Pidd Research fellow, UK Advanced Institute for Management Research, Associate dean (research), Lancaster University Management School

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