Ask the panel

October 5, 2007

Worried about your employment, maternity, pension rights? Send your questions to The Times Higher advice panel.

'I have just learnt that I am to be excluded from my department's research assessment exercise submission "for strategic reasons", even though I have more than four items in respectable publications. Do I have the right to appeal against this decision, and will it have a long-term impact on my promotion chances?'

* A spokesperson for the University and College Union says: "According to the funding councils, the rules for RAE 2008 are supposed to 'put an end to the situation, produced by the previous rating scale, where an HEI might consider leaving one or more established researchers out of a submission to ensure that it achieved a higher grade and possibly received more funding', (Higher Education Funding Council for England, 2004, paragraph 49). Unfortunately, the funding council's advice is being ignored by institutions, which are continuing to 'strategically' - and often arbitrarily - exclude staff from the exercise. As a result, it is necessary to have appropriate appeals mechanisms in place.

"In fact, institutions are required to establish appeals procedures as part of the RAE code of practice on submissions. This may be in the form of a separate RAE appeals process or as part of an established grievance procedure. In addition, the UCU has been encouraging universities to establish 'no detriment' procedures for staff who have been excluded from the RAE. The purpose of these procedures is to try to ensure that exclusion from the RAE will not affect either time designated for research when it comes to the allocation of departmental duties, or promotion prospects."

Gill Evans , project leader of the Hefce-funded Dispute Resolution Project ( ), says: "Your rights here will depend on what it says about research in the terms of your contract and on the university's promotion criteria and procedures.

"Universities have only comparatively recently faced this question in relation to a considerable proportion of their staff and it is important that they design fair procedures in consultation with employees to ensure that academic staff are not disadvantaged by short-term policy changes arising out of the current RAE."

A spokesperson for the Equality Challenge Unit says: "You would be advised to consult the guidance from the funding councils, RAE 2008: Guidance on submissions , which can be found at http:/// . This sets out institutions' obligations with regard to the RAE.

"Of particular interest will be the requirement that institutions produce an internal code of practice in preparing submissions and selecting staff for inclusion in RAE submissions, which they are required to make available to all individuals and groups concerned with the RAE.

"The code of practice must set out clearly defined operating criteria and terms of reference, and it must be underpinned by equality principles and all relevant equality legislation."

A pro vice- chancellor says: "How did you learn about this decision? It is important to have stated in writing that this is a strategic decision, otherwise how can you be sure that in future years you will not be judged as having failed to meet the four-item bar for the RAE? The whole question of strategic exclusion is murky and individual institutions are operating differently, but if the decision is on strategic grounds alone - in other words, is an attempt to enhance the submission that could ultimately benefit everyone - then this must be made clear to all concerned.

"This person should contact HR services and request written confirmation that his/her exclusion is purely strategic and will have no impact on his/her professional future."

This advice panel includes the University and College Union, the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, the Equality Challenge Unit and the Higher Education Funding Council for England-funded Dispute Resolution Project.

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