English studies heads have expressed dismay over the "absurdly low" proportion of their departments awarded top ratings in the latest research assessment exercise.
The Council for College and University English and a host of English faculties have condemned the "elitist" approach to grading which they say was adopted by the RAE panel for their subject area.
And they have backed an open letter to members of the panel, calling for a review of the RAE and the criteria used by different subject area panels to decide which ratings to award.
The letter, written by Kelvin Everest, head of English at Liverpool University, points out that while the number of departments entered for English in the RAE has grown by 25 per cent, there has been no change in the proportion awarded the top two grades.
Almost all comparable subjects did significantly better, Professor Everest says. Grade 5s were awarded to 11 per cent of English departments, compared with 26 per cent in history, 39.5 per cent in classics and 36.5 per cent in music.
Most of the top grades in English went to the biggest departments. This will mean that RAE money will be highly concentrated in a handful of very large departments, leading to "a crisis for the subject as a whole", the letter adds.
A funding council spokeswoman commented: "There are standard criteria the panels are asked to keep to unless they can show there is a subject specific reason for not doing so."