Critic points to RAE defects

May 9, 1997

The 1996 research assessment exercise may lead to a damaging split between research and teaching in many institutions, says Ian McNay, head of the centre for higher education management at Anglia Polytechnic University.

Professor McNay this week publishes his Higher Education Funding Council for England-funded report looking at the 1992 RAE. He argues that the 1996 assessment was better than its 1992 forerunner but could still be improved.

Researched during the period leading up to the 1996 assessment, the report involved focus groups, staff surveys and policy and literature searches, and includes comments from 150 heads of departments and more than 400 academic staff in England.

It highlights a number of shortcomings, which according to Professor McNay, have only seen minor improvements since 1992. Among these is the separation of the RAE from other higher education quality assurance exercises.

According to Professor McNay, departments that scored excellently in teaching assessments were not rewarded as much as those which did well in the RAE.

"If you got an excellent for teaching, there were very few rewards," says Professor McNay, who adds: "The RAE was far more an individual thing, while teaching was the whole department and support services. It did not have the same identity of personal kudos."

Professor McNay says that there is evidence that following the 1992 assessment, the difference in relative financial rewards for teaching and research led to the transfer of funds from teaching to research, particularly in smaller colleges which were trying to get on the bottom rung of the research ladder.

He adds that there is also evidence of the bullying into resignation of excellent teachers who had neglected research and publications for teaching. He says that this transfer of money away from teaching may well continue after the 1996 assessment.

"People are waiting to see what will happen after 1996," he said. "I don't think the modern universities which did not score well enough for significant research funding will be willing to abandon research."

Professor McNay adds that there have been some improvements between the two assessments. He highlights a decision by HEFCE to remove the number of publications criteria from the assessment which has meant a shift from quantity to quality, while more openness by panels, as well as more preparation time and increasingly tolerant understanding of what was meant by research, have helped to improve the exercise. He adds, however, that much professional field-based research, including subjects such as social work, still do not appear to get full research recognition.

Ian McNay, page 13

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