Chosen few consider the 'huge task' ahead

January 14, 2005

The higher education funding councils this week announced the 67 academics who will be responsible for assessing submissions to the 2008 research assessment exercise at subject level, writes Anna Fazackerley.

The eagerly awaited list of sub-panel chairs - experts in their field chosen after nominations by the sector last year - reads like a Who's Who of traditional, research-intensive universities. Only two former polytechnics - Manchester Metropolitan University and the University of West of England - are represented.

Cambridge University tops the league with six sub-panel chairs, followed by Oxford and Loughborough universities, with five chairs each. Ten of the sub-panel chairs are women.

Ed Hughes, RAE manager at the Higher Education Funding Council for England, said: "We are very fortunate to have been able to appoint individuals with the respect of the academic and wider research community, extensive research experience, and significant experience of peer-review processes."

Ian Haines, director of the Graduate School at London Metropolitan University and chair of the UK Deans of Science Committee, did not think there will be much concern about the underrepresentation of new universities. "One has to have a group of people who command respect among their peers," he said.

But he added that it was important for the general membership of the panels, to be announced in the next few weeks, to be mixed.

The 67 chairs form part of a new two-tier structure designed to improve the RAE. Each sub-panel is part of 15 main panels that will oversee the full range of research in related subject areas.

Sub-panel chairs will be responsible for the core work of assessing submissions and will make recommendations to main panels on the quality profiles to award for each submission.

Most are aware that this is a daunting task. Steve Williamson, head of the School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at Manchester University and the new chair of the sub-panel in the field, sat on the equivalent panel in the 2001 exercise.

He said: "It is a lot of work, but I think it goes with the territory. One wants to make a contribution to the subject and the profession."

And Professor Williamson recognises this new position might not make him universally popular. He said: "You try hard to reach a consensus and reach as fair a view as possible. But there will always be people who disagree with your views."

Bernard Silverman, master of St Peter's College, Oxford, and chair of the statistics and operational research sub-panel, said that setting his panel in motion would involve considerable work, but the "huge task" would be dealing with the avalanche of submissions in 2008.

Professor Silverman admitted: "I have some reservations about the whole RAE process. But because I was asked by my colleagues to do this job, I will do it to the best of my ability."

WHAT NEXT?

* Summer 2005: Guidance on submissions issued and draft criteria of all panels issued for consultation

* By Dec 31, 2005: Final criteria of panels issued

* Oct 31, 2007: All staff to be submitted must be in post

* Nov 30, 2007: Closing date for submissions

* Dec 31, 2007: Cut-off point for publication of research to be counted

* Dec 2008: RAE results published.

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