More staff rejected as institutions focus on quest for quality ratings. Zoë Corbyn reports.
Dramatic increases in the proportion of academics excluded from the research assessment exercise were confirmed by a number of universities this week.
Amid speculation that more academics than ever before could be branded "research inactive" and left out of the exercise, Derby University confirmed that some 91 per cent of its academic staff would be excluded from the 2008 RAE, compared with 69 per cent in 2001.
Although the picture varies across the sector, indicative figures provided to The Times Higher by Derby, Oxford Brookes, Birmingham City and Kingston universities confirm that each is opting for a far more selective strategy than in 2001.
There is also anecdotal evidence that at least one research-intensive university is planning to exclude more staff in a bid to increase its research quality ratings.
Oxford Brookes is planning to submit about 33 per cent of its staff (down from 41 per cent), Birmingham City expects to submit about 11 per cent (down from 20 per cent) and Kingston is planning to sumbit about 26 per cent (down from 29 per cent).
Derby intends to submit just 9 per cent of its full-time-equivalent academics compared with 31 per cent in 2001.
"We are under no illusion whatsoever that it will be an extraordinarily selective basis by which the Higher Education Funding Council for England will draw the final line on who gets funding and who does not," said Paul Bridges, Derby's head of research.
He said that Derby would be submitting staff in four units of assessment, but as the university currently receives no RAE funding there is no financial risk. "We've been more selective than hitherto because we decided it was important to gain peer recognition for quality."
Janet Beer, vice-chancellor of Oxford Brookes, said the university was being more selective and was intending to submit in 19 units of assessment. "We see the RAE as a snapshot of research activity and a means to an end - to consolidate our reputation as an institution that is serious and confident about research."
Warwick University, a member of the research-led Russell Group, is also understood to be taking a tougher line than in the previous exercise, when nearly 91 per cent of staff were submitted.
The local University and College Union said that in some Warwick departments up to 25 per cent of staff were being excluded. Universities must make their submissions to the RAE by the end of the month. Panels will begin poring over them in January, with the final outcomes not expected until December 2008.
Rob Copeland, national policy officer for the University and College Union, said that despite new rules designed to curb selectivity, significant numbers of people were being strategically excluded. He estimated that it would be "no better than in 2001", where 60 per cent of academic staff were selected.
"Some of the more 'aspirational' post-1992s do seem to be going for increased selectivity, pushing in certain subject areas where they may get a reasonably high rating," he added.
But some universities are submitting more staff than previously. Brunel indicated that it was entering 87 per cent (up from 61 per cent), Lincoln estimated submitting between 35 and 40 per cent (up from 21.5 per cent) and Plymouth between 40 and 50 per cent (up from 34 per cent).
Steve Smith, chairman of the 1994 Group of smaller research-intensive universities and vice-chancellor of Exeter, said it was difficult to know whether RAE 2008 would be more selective.
"No one yet knows what everyone's strategy is going to be. The 1994 Group submitted more staff as a percentage last time, and I suspect that it will roughly be a similar picture, but research heads are not revealing," he said.
Professor Smith added that "selectivity" was wider than just percentages of staff submitted. "In all our academic appointments for the past couple of years Exeter has only been appointing people who are RAE assessable," he said.
Malcolm Grant, University College London provost and chairman of the Russell Group, said the group would probably submit proportions of staff in the same range as last time, of between 75 to 90 per cent.
"The question is, how much money is in it? If there is a significant increase in quality and volume of research, which is my sense through the period, but if the amount of money remains the same it will mean everyone is worse off," he said.