Letter: RAE stacks odds 1

February 1, 2002

I have been watching the latest research assessment exercise unwind. It seems highly unlikely that the unprecedented improvements in ratings reflect genuine improvements as opposed to grade inflation.

In psychology we have seen the number of 5-rated departments rise from 11 to 29 and the number of 5* departments increase from four to 12. Has the profile of British psychology on the world stage really increased to this extent? We now find out that the previously funded 3b departments will receive nothing and that 3a departments will share a pittance of £20 million ("Knives are out as Hefce breaks vow", THES , January 25).

Those new university academics who have worked hard on their four-paper entry ticket while coping with large student numbers find that they are to be rewarded with little or no funding. At the same time, the Higher Education Funding Council for England is going to open the maximum student number floodgates to allow a free-for-all for students. No doubt those new university academics will see increases in teaching loads as their institutions vie for more resources. We can be sure that the cushioned 5* departments will not be rushing to double their student intake.

The RAE has been a huge distraction to the new universities, causing them to take their eye off the ball. Now that the RAE has finally been revealed as a mechanism for channelling almost all research resource to the elite, perhaps the new university academics will get back to the real agenda of developing their own identity through applied and industrial research and excelling in teaching.

Tony Ward
Senior lecturer in psychology
University of the West Indies

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