Letter: Researchers routed 4

February 15, 2002

The debate over the 2001 research assessment exercise consists only of minor quibbles, while larger and important weaknesses of the exercise - itself an example of flawed research - are no longer mentioned.

"Excellence" is not an objective measurable quality. In any discipline there are differing opinions. Works regarded by one scholar as of excellent quality may be rejected by another. Such biases must surface in any peer review.

It makes little sense to give an overall score to a group of individuals, such as a department, pursuing different lines of research in different ways with different degrees of success.

No schoolteacher would give a single overall grade to cover all the children in a mixed-ability class. Why does Hefce follow such a foolish practice?

The proceedings are secret. The appointment of the judges mysterious. There is no facility for appeal. Yet the findings can damage careers and reputations. Does this not contravene the principles of natural justice - if not, as I suspect it may do, actual legislation?

Finally, the pressure to conform to specific types of research determined by a government committee remains a serious threat to both individual and institutional academic freedom.

Guy Cook
Professor of applied linguistics
University of Reading

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