RAE for the vain but not the old 1

May 28, 2004

Universities are already looking for ways to avoid including weak researchers in the next research assessment exercise ("Staff at risk in RAE run-up", May 21) which will doubtless involve approaching people to take early retirement.

Any future RAE will have to take account of government plans to strengthen equality legislation. The UK's disgraceful opt-out of European human-rights commitments to prevent ageism ends in 2006. After that, universities will not be able to ask older researchers to leave unless they treat younger researchers whose work is of a comparable standard similarly.

The RAE is conducive to discrimination on many grounds, but particularly in relation to age. Permanent staff are assessed on their ability to attract research funds that are largely used for the fixed-term employment of young graduates, who are often previously acquainted with the grant holder who in effect appoints them. Criteria such as the publication of research papers discriminate not only against people moving between universities and industry, but also against older people wishing to resume university research after a career break.

The RAE urgently needs to deploy fair recruitment and employment practices devised by experts, rather than rely on criteria that appear to have evolved historically through bureaucratic procedures. Universities appointing staff to meet RAE criteria would be in difficulty if these were found to be ageist by the proposed Commission for Equality and Human Rights.

Your editorial (May 21) highlights the need for an RAE that is more administratively efficient and internationally credible. Its impact on equal opportunities is another reason why the RAE should go.

Frederic Stansfield
Canterbury, Kent

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