Laurie Taylor Column

May 9, 2003

"No stars for RAE funding change", THES , May 9.

Crikey. Have you seen this letter in The THES from half the RAE panel chairs? Strong stuff. They're actually threatening to have nothing to do with any future research assessment exercise.

What's troubling them?

They're all incensed about Hefce inventing a brand-new 5** rating to mark out the departments that were even better than those rated 5*.

Why don't they like that?

They don't like it because Hefce didn't consult the assessment panels before it did this. It just went ahead and awarded a 5** to those departments that had achieved a 5* in both the 1996 and the 2001 assessment exercises.

What was wrong with that?

The panel chairs say that it was a completely formulaic method of assessing research excellence.

A formulaic method of assessment?

That's right.

And a somewhat arbitrary method?

That as well.

A method that failed to do justice to the complexities of actual research?

Quite so.

A method that favoured departments that were already favoured?

Exactly.

Let's get this straight. You're telling me that the chairs of half the RAE panels are objecting to a method of assessment that is formulaic, arbitrary, gross and reeking of favouritism?

That's right. It's a nasty case of academic independence being undermined by a body that owes its primary allegiance to government.

I'd put it rather more simply. I'd say it was a nasty case of "Dear Kettle... Yours sincerely, Pot".

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