Daniel Hutto's comments on the research assessment exercise (Letters, THES , April 18) are misleading. A department that submits eight staff to the exercise, three of whom are internationally excellent, would clearly be graded 5, and not 4 as he suggests.
The grading criteria for RAE 2001 referred to a unit's overall research activity rather than to individual researchers, so that a unit could be given a grade 5 - if, say, 40 per cent of research output was rated as internationally excellent - without necessarily having a single "internationally excellent" individual.
But this also means that defining "critical mass" is far more problematic than education secretary Charles Clarke et al would have us believe.
Instead of inventing ever-more recondite ways of specifying 6* or 7* departments, it would be better in the next RAE to raise the proportion of internationally excellent research needed to gain a 5 or 5* while fully funding all departments rated 4 and higher.
Department of German
University of Nottingham