RAE funding puzzle

February 14, 2008

You report the explanation from a spokesman for the Higher Education Funding Council for England that data on research-active staff not submitted to the research assessment exercise are not being collected because they are "not relevant to the purpose of the RAE, which is to drive funding for research" ("Number of staff entered for RAE rises by 12%", 31 January).

But RAE funding will depend partly on judgments of the quality of the research environment, based on metrics of research students, research grants and other factors. The RAE submission rate is surely the strongest measure of research environment, and it is perverse to exclude it from the judgment while including others.

After the 2001 RAE, the Government instructed Hefce to give special consideration in its funding algorithm to 5-rated and 5*-rated departments. Is it possible that in 2009 the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills will instruct the funding council to give special treatment to departments whose average grade per submitted researcher is above some particular threshold? Would Hefce refuse to comply with such an instruction on the grounds that the average grade per submitted researcher is a meaningless statistic in the absence of data on the number of non-submitted researchers?

Alasdair Smith, University of Sussex

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