Assessors face 'drowning' as they endeavour to read 2,363 submissions

April 17, 2008

Some panels assessing work under the research assessment exercise could find themselves "drowning" under the weight of their workload, panel members said this week.

Currently 67 sub-panels of academics are reading mountains of publications, which will determine which departments receive the most impressive "quality profile". The sub-panels of between seven and 20 academics will assess 2,363 submissions from 159 universities before announcing the results in December.

The average panel member is likely to have to read more than a hundred books or papers between February and September. Which sub-panels will really feel the strain will depend on both the number of submissions in each subject area and the "working methods" they have adopted.

"The panels I would expect to be drowning are some looking at virtually all outputs," said one panel member.

Published on the RAE website, each sub-panel determines its own minimum proportion of work to examine in detail. This ranges from 10 per cent in the case of engineering subjects to 50 per cent for some sciences and mathematics panels to "virtually all" (90 per cent) for many social science panels, as well as English and history. Many of the panels also "double-read" submissions.

Those that have promised to read a minimum of 90 per cent of material are most likely to feel the strain.

"I suspect that many panel members will be unlikely to admit drowning, unless there is a general move to indicate that it is all too much," said the panel member.

Another source added that although his science sub-panel only required half the outputs to be examined in detail, he would be looking at them all.

"You read them sufficiently to form a judgment, to get a feeling," he told Times Higher Education. "Some you are already familiar with ... you are using your professional judgment, you don't have to read to the last full stop."

But he dismissed the possibility of panel overload, saying: "You have accepted a responsibility that you have to deliver."

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