It is right to reward and develop centres of excellence, but how can this really strike the right balance in research funding ("United assault on Clarke's plans", THES , April 11)?
According to the research assessment exercise criteria, the difference between 4, 5 and 5* units is a difference in the proportion of internationally excellent researchers as opposed to nationally excellent researchers. A 5* does not indicate that every member of staff in a 5* unit is internationally excellent but rather that "more than half" are.
In philosophy, only Oxford University will achieve 6* status using the criterion that requires units to have achieved 5* status in two successive assessments. Oxford's 2001 RAE result means that minimally 25 staff of the 49 entered were internationally excellent. The remainder demonstrated national excellence.
The difference between 4 and 5-rated departments is that the former have "some" internationally excellent researchers and the latter have "up to half". Thus, if an average-sized 4-rated philosophy unit entered eight staff, three might be internationally excellent.
It follows that cutting funding from ten 4-rated philosophy units to better fund one 6* unit threatens support for 20 to 30 international researchers.
Some universities are clearly preparing to take a strategic view of research. They will focus funding only on units that have a clear potential to achieve a 5 rating. What will become of the internationally excellent research in the 4-rated units? In philosophy, 73 per cent of units rated 4 in the 1996 RAE were rated 5 in 2001. This suggests that previous funding levels were effective in raising the amount of international research.
It could be argued that funding a few select units at the expense of many others creates "critical mass". But this assumes, falsely, that all research is primarily collaborative or team-based, requiring researchers to be located in a single institution. What does that leave for disciplines such as philosophy in which research is often conducted by individuals working alone?
Head of philosophy
University of Hertfordshire