RAE frenzy is destroying teaching 1

October 20, 2006

"Bonus culture sweeps sector" (October 13) told only half the story. It said that university managements were resorting to various forms of performance-related pay for "top-performing academics" and to "sanctions against underachievers". What it didn't say was that top performance is being judged exclusively by ability to look good in the research assessment exercise and underachievement exclusively by the opposite.

In other words, our universities, often called degree factories in the past, have become RAE factories. And underlying all this is a total contempt by managements for what students - and most people outside universities - Jconsider the essential part of their activity, their teaching.

The consequences of the single-minded research-led mania are there for all to see. Many excellent teachers who have done research that is perfectly good but not deemed of international standard are being consigned to the scrapheap, demoted, made to feel second-rate or demoralised. Universities are desperately trying to recruit staff with international-standard research publications even if their teaching is not relevant to the department and even when there is little or no teaching for them to do.

Students, now significant fee-payers, are being sold a pig in a poke, lured to institutions whose overwhelming concern is not with undergraduate education but with how many top grades can be achieved in the RAE. How long before students twig that universities have stopped doing anything other than paying lip service to their duty of academic care to those they receive public money to educate?

The trouble is that by the time that happens irreversible damage will have been done - if this has not happened already - to the whole delicate balance between teaching and research and the whole ethos of valuing academics for their ability to pass on to their students their knowledge and enthusiasm for their discipline as well as for the original contributions to knowledge they are able to pledge to their peers.

Howard Moss
Swansea University

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