Astronomical effort 2

April 9, 2004

"Industry winners losing out in the RAE" (April 2) highlights one of the key problems with university reform: the craze for measurement and accountability presumes comparability.

The assumption that what academics do is reducible to a single invariant metric is not only ridiculous but dangerous. While they may appear monolithic to the outside observer, most academic disciplines are containers of myriad subfields, all doing a variety of work. As the RAE presumes that all members of a given academic discipline do roughly equivalent things, it is no wonder that departments engaged in activities that fall outside of the invariant model used are good at other things - links with business in this case.

Until academics become better at explaining the variety of elements that comprise our work to those who would control the purse strings, we will continue to face problems from those who think that all academic work can be reduced to a single dimension.

Jeffrey Roberts
School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research
Kent University

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