A study to evaluate the funding of interdisciplinary research is being hampered by a lack of balance in responses from academics, writes Alison Goddard.
The study intends to ensure the fair distribution of funds in the next research assessment exercise, due in 2001.
But most of the respondents to the survey of 11,000 researchers are men who hold senior staff posts in the physical sciences. Junior researchers, women and those working in the arts and humanities are seriously under-represented.
"We are faced with a classic response bias problem," said Trudy Coe of Evaluation Associates (Ea), the consultancy conducting the study on behalf of the higher education funding councils and research councils. "Those most interested in interdisciplinary research and the research assessment exercise have responded first. So they are more senior and hence more likely to be male."
Almost a third of respondents are professors, despite only 8 per cent of academics holding the post. Men also account for 83 per cent of respondents, whereas about one-third of researchers are female.
The study, recommended by Lord Dearing's review of higher education, will also look at how interdisciplinary research was dealt with by panel members in the last RAE. A series of workshops and seminars will be held to explore the issues raised by the surveys. Final results are expected to be published early next year.
In an attempt to achieve a more balanced response in the survey of researchers, Ea has extended the deadline for responses to September 21.