Casualties rise even before the RAE starts

February 2, 2007

Exclusion from the research assessment exercise by managers seeking to maximise scores is causing personal and professional pain to academics, reports Anthea Lipsett

A world-leading authority on fascism with several books and a television series in the pipeline is one of the huge number of academics whose work will not figure in the research assessment exercise.

The lecturer, who works at a Russell Group university, said: "They won't enter me in the RAE despite my outputs outshining most of the others in the department. It's extraordinary when it's supposed to be a performance exercise. I've taught on this subject for many years. I'm considered a world leader in my field, and senior academic colleagues have been looking at my university and wondering what the hell's going on."

The lecturer, who asked not to be named, has spent six years on rolling temporary contracts. He was told that his temporary status was the reason for his exclusion from the 2008 RAE.

University managers around the country are fine-tuning their RAE submissions. Several are completing mock exercises with a view to making final decisions about which academics' research will be entered.

In what is being billed as the most selective exercise ever, the research-led universities in particular are likely to opt for quality over volume.

Academics are waiting to learn their RAE fate. Exclusion from the exercise can damage career progression and academic reputation.

The excluded lecturer said: "The quality of my work speaks for itself, so I'm not too worried about the effect, especially as this is the last RAE.

It's the disregard for people's reputations that needs to be addressed.

It's massively damaging and gets in the way of positive performance and stymies real creativity and talent, which harms the department and university in the end."

Another academic, based in a 1994 Group university, who was not submitted in the 2001 RAE said: "Exclusion had immediate consequences. The vice-chancellor asked all heads of department for a report on the excluded individuals, and there was considerable pressure put on them to retire early. Many did.

"The university is adopting the same strategy - being highly selective - this time. This is despite the fact that we were led to believe that the 2008 RAE would be designed to discourage game-playing. I know that some people have already been told they will be excluded. Some are being given a much bigger teaching load as a consequence. Some are being retired.

However, it is still early in the process. Departments are just completing the first draft of their submissions.

"It's such a waste when people who can make such a good contribution are got rid of," he added.

Peter Coxhead is academic manager in Birmingham University's School of Computer Science and a union official. He said: "It's not only inclusion or exclusion. The university reserves the right to determine the outputs for each individual, which strikes at the heart of people's identity as an academic."

What upset academics was when research that they felt was excellent was withheld because a manager was trying to second-guess what type of work a particular panel would value, he said.

"There have been disputes at Birmingham between union members and their schools not simply about whether they would be submitted but which papers would be submitted. People have felt threatened by the process," Dr Coxhead said. "They are being told their research isn't good enough, and this has a profound impact."

All universities have written a code of practice outlining their RAE submission process. For instance, University College London expects staff to have four research outputs rated at least 2* (or internationally recognised research), while Queen's University Belfast has reviewed all academic outputs, scored them 1* to 4* and taken into account income, postgraduate numbers and measures of esteem to get a reasonably accurate idea of the volume and profile of research.

But most universities have yet to make final decisions.

Pam Lowe, a lecturer in sociology at Aston University, said: "Individual letters will be sent out in the next couple of weeks telling us whether or not we're likely to be included. But the university recognises that teaching is an important contribution, and it would have no contractual detriment. It's for strategic reasons. That's been made every clear."

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