Battle for cash hots up

March 20, 1998

Latest submissions as the RAE consultation closed last week

AUT AND NATFHE

In an ideal world the unions would like to see the research assessment exercise scrapped.

The Association of University Teachers says that for its members the experience "has been overwhelmingly one of divisiveness, unfairness and demoralisation".

It deplores the effect of the last exercise on chemistry and physics, which a number of institutions have been forced to abandon. It urges the funding councils to delay the next round by at least ten years to allow for a period of stability.

Natfhe claims the RAE "does not acknowledge the full range, complexity and quality of work undertaken in the new university sector" and "does not encourage collegiality or cooperation".

Both unions call for help for fledgling research, preferably through "seedcorn" funding. They support peer review and favour a broad definition of research to include teaching material development.

They suggest dealing with the problem of the transfer market by attaching RAE-derived funding to the institutions where research is done. Both want panel members to be drawn from a broad range of institutions and backgrounds, with the AUT suggesting that no one should serve more than twice, compared with the present limit of three times.

But while the AUT supports the existing single-discipline units of assessments, with more sub-divisions, Natfhe suggests building a framework that provides bridges across disciplines to help measure multidisciplinary research.

The AUT opposes major reforms before an inquiry into the funding of interdisciplinary research reports. It also acknowledges the problems of including work in progress in the assessment, although this is something Natfhe favours.

The AUT is particularly interested in feedback sessions as part of the exercise. It strongly opposes the idea of a forfeitable deposit if institutions fail to make the grades they predict. And it suggests limiting the RAE's scope to research that involves expensive equipment.

Natfhe stresses the importance of collaboration and suggests introducing an RAE weighting to support it. It also wants special support for institutions and subject areas that have not been well-funded for research in the past.

Before the next RAE it should be clear what the relation between research ratings and funding will be, it says. Funding systems should give better support to scholarship, ideally by making an allowance per lecturer. It claims that about Pounds 5,000 per lecturer is needed to provide resources and time for research.

Natfhe also rejects incentives for departments not to participate in the RAE or penalties for departments that fail to achieve particular ratings.

It does not support the idea of fixing a minimum number of staff to be eligible for the highest grade, saying this would be against the interests of new universities, which are likely to have fewer research-active staff.

COALITION OF MODERN UNIVERSITIES

The RAE panel members should be chosen for their ability to judge quality rather than for their ability to carry out research, says the coalition, which represents most of the post-1992 universities.

It calls for a broadening of panel membership and the definition of research to include subjects such as music and fine art. It does not want research concentrated in only a few universities but wants institutions to be free to submit whatever proportion of staff they judge to be research active without penalty.

The coalition calls for mechanisms to encourage inter-institutional collaboration. Panel guidelines should be clearly established in advance of the exercise, which should be held as a single exercise, rather than a rolling process.

ASSOCIATION OF BUSINESS SCHOOLS

Business leaders, not just academics, should be included on the business studies assessment panel in the next RAE, the ABS says. Business and industry leaders are best placed to judge the relevance to "user communities" of research.

It also says that assessment of research output must not be based solely on published journal papers. "The assessment must continue to identify quality research in other forms, in particular working papers and conference papers by new entrants to the profession."

The ABS recommended that the business studies panel be divided into "sub-groups". These should include accountancy and finance, business economics, human resource management and industrial relations.

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