Angry v-cs slam timing of exercise

June 16, 2006

The 2008 research assessment exercise will go ahead - but the Government aims to start introducing a new system only one year after it is completed, writes Anna Fazackerley.

The fate of the 2008 RAE has been the subject of frenzied negotiation in Westminster, and last week The Times Higher reported that Tony Blair had stepped into the fray to suggest that it should be axed.

The Government's consultation on the future of research funding drew a line under the debate this week when it confirmed that the exercise would proceed.

But vice-chancellors criticised the decision to start "phasing in" the new system as early as 2009-10. They said that this made a mockery of many months of planning and expensive recruitment campaigns in the run-up to the 2008 exercise.

Malcolm Grant, provost of University College London, said: "Kicking off in 2009 is problematic. If the effect is to sideline the value of RAE 2008, that must raise questions about the point of going through with it."

Glynis Breakwell, vice-chancellor of Bath University, said: "Since it looks as though this will perturb the existing allocations significantly, there has to be time to smooth the implications of this change." She added: "This is very serious for us, and we need time to digest it."

Eric Thomas, vice-chancellor of Bristol University and an arch opponent of the RAE, said: "There is no point in doing RAE 2008 if it has no impact. It has to inform funding for a substantial period of time. But if it diminishes over time that is fine."

He added: "As finding the right metrics is going to prove more of a problem than we envisaged, there is no point in scrapping 2008."

The consultation document also confirmed that the Higher Education Funding Council for England would run a shadow metrics exercise alongside the 2008 RAE to monitor its effects.

Bill Rammell, the Higher Education Minister, described this approach as "measured and realistic".

But Michael Driscoll, vice-chancellor of Middlesex University and chair of the Campaigning for Mainstream Universities lobby group, said: "What is being offered is an attempt to find metrics that come up with the same answers as the RAE."

He said: "This is not a radical overhaul, as was promised - Jit is just a rather anally retentive technical exercise. It is sad if this is the best we can do following the Treasury's invitation to think deeply about funding."

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