RAE sidelines youth

August 12, 2005

Dave Toke's claim ("RAE rules may lead to cull of older staff", August 5) that the 2008 research assessment exercise threatens older researchers rests on two assumptions. First, that he is no better a researcher now than when he was younger or that his experience would increase his value; second, that he makes no significant contribution to his department's research environment, helping to foster the early-career researchers he seems to fear will replace him.

I am 59. I have the opposite worry. Most panels allocate just 20 per cent to the quality of the research environment, which is where the measure of support for young researchers really registers. Some 70 per cent typically goes to outputs alone. So it is still safer for universities to buy in older high-flyers - exactly what the change was supposed to counteract. A unit can find itself with a predominance of early-career researchers for many reasons: a new subject area, a young department, high turnover. No matter how obvious its potential, there is a mathematical barrier to its rating.

There may be reasons to worry at Toke's institution, Birmingham University (which treated its cultural studies staff scandalously during and after the last RAE), but it will not be because of the RAE's rules.

Martin Barker, University of Wales, Aberystwyth

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