Excluded disclose the 'painful pressures on those who are not producing'

December 14, 2001

We visited six departments before today's results were announced to find out how they were preparing for the RAE.

Academics whose work has been excluded from the research assessment exercise have been telling a University College London researcher how the process has damaged their lives.

Lisa Lucas has carried out 70 interviews with academics from old and new universities in an attempt to expose a sociology of higher education she believes is hidden from view.

Dr Lucas said her research indicated that the RAE had polarised academics into two distinct groups: those deemed research active and "the rest", who were increasingly isolated.

An English professor at an older institution described how the exercise discouraged creative work, which was not valued in the same way as ordinary "scholarly research".

The professor said: "There have been painful pressures on people who are not producing. One colleague in particular was deemed by the criteria to be research inactive when in fact he was very productive and research active in a different form.

"He did a lot of editorial work and he contributed to other people's research through his editorial work and kept his own knowledge fresh and growing. He was a creative mind in terms of research, thinking and teaching, but it had a very bad effect on him because he didn't fit the criteria."

Another respondent, a professor of sociology at a post-1992 university, said he had been squeezed out for doing the wrong kind of research.

"The RAE is publication above all and, of course, the way to generate funds is to do projects that appeal to the Economic and Social Research Council," the professor said "I am defensive about what constitutes research because I clearly don't do research that is easily fundable and I clearly don't do fieldwork in the orthodox sense. But there was a definition of me by some people that I picked up that was that I wasn't really a researcher because I wasn't doing that sort of thing.

"Somehow if you are not a researcher then you are just a teacher or something, or somebody who just reads books, and that's not quite the same. So I wanted the definition that doing research is original thinking and it seems to me that some of the best stuff in sociology comes like that."

A biology lecturer said bad feelings were generated among members of departments with a heavy teaching load.

"Within a department it causes alienation of people who spend a lot of time as an undergraduate tutor or on administrative work. They feel they are being squeezed out of the system when they are contributing probably more than a number of people who are doing their own thing. And that did actually cause ill-feeling."

Another lecturer, from a sociology department, lamented the way publications have become the only valid form of academic work. "To be here in the department is not work, work is to get published even if hardly anybody ever reads it."

Teaching and student care are things you can't put on a cv, she said. "They are not part of the department's achievements. It is the classical thing that you find in any institution - the observable things that become part of the records of the institution and therefore become important. The things that can't be seen or counted are ignored.

"All the staff who I know are really conscientious and they work on behalf of students. But what they experience is the feeling that this is unproductive, that it is not valid."

The research will be delivered at a seminar on January 15 at UCL.

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