Rookies risk fall at RAE hurdle

September 3, 2004

Your article, "NZ RAE batters rookies' morale" (August ) highlights a problem that the planners of the next research assessment exercise should note. Documents for the RAE in 2008 suggest that new and young staff will be protected in some way, but it is unclear how this will be done. We have been told that the outcome of the RAE will be a set of quality profiles (x at 4*, y at 3*, z at 2* and so on) and that's all.

Output graded 4* will be highly funded and there is some doubt whether 1* output will be funded at all.

In some subjects, it is almost impossible for new and young staff to produce enough highly rated papers. This is not because they are incompetent or lazy but because they are under pressure. In the physical sciences, it is normal for staff to complete a few years of postdoctoral research before taking up a lectureship. During their postdoctoral period, these newcomers can produce the requisite papers.

But new academic staff in many other disciplines become lecturers immediately after completing PhDs. They have not had time, unless helped by their supervisor, to mine their thesis for publishable material. They begin their academic career with an empty cupboard or one with meagre rations.

When academics start lecturing, they are usually required to gain some form of teaching qualification, to teach and mark work from large classes, to act as good citizens, to apply for research grants and to produce research output. With the exception of excellent (or lucky) staff, this is all very difficult. There is a danger that the 2008 RAE will lead to even greater disillusion among rookie academics.

I look forward to seeing how the 2008 RAE will protect and encourage the career development of new and young staff. Otherwise, many will be omitted from their department's submission since their work will earn little or no cash. This is hardly the best way to encourage their development.

Michael Pidd
Professor of management science
Lancaster University

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