New kids dance better

November 5, 2009

Michael Arthur's call for greater concentration of research funding overlooks the fact that his vision of about 30 universities taking the lion's share is already here ("V-c: focus research cash or 'mediocrity' awaits", 22 October).

Furthermore, his argument that greater selectivity will protect UK research from mediocrity does not stand up to scrutiny. The proportion of staff judged 2*, 1* and unstarred in research-led universities in the RAE 2008 - in some cases, up to 70 per cent - suggests that in many cases the money could have been better spent elsewhere.

At the same time, many teaching-led institutions (GuildHE members included) that Arthur would like to exclude were shown to be punching above their weight and supporting important pockets of excellence.

The course of action Arthur suggests would significantly narrow not only the number and type of institutions funded to conduct top-level research, but also the range of disciplines. Many subjects are not covered by the cluster of universities in his charmed circle. It also runs against the academic grain to judge research excellence in institutions rather than disciplines.

It seems Arthur's concerns may have more to do with preserving current hierarchies than supporting the best research. Perhaps, too, he is worried that we have exchanged the stately RAE tea dance, where everyone knew the steps, for REF hip hop, where some of the new kids on the block have a better chance of looking good?

Alice Hynes, Chief executive officer, GuildHE.

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