Two hundred and forty-two pages of funding council documents thudded on to university doormats this week as the final guidance and criteria for the 1996 Research Assessment Exercise were issued.
Higher Education Funding Council for England chief executive Brian Fender, who as vice chancellor of Keele University satirised the huge volume of council documentation inflicted on institutions, said that this was one occasion on which detail would be welcome. "We are trying to give institutions as much advice and information as we can without getting in their way," he said.
The guidance circular details the seven forms - overall staff summary, research active staff, publications and other output, research students, external research income, statements of research environment and plans and general observations - to be completed and delivered to HEFCE by April 30 1996. The 204-page criteria document contains statements of criteria for assessment and the working methods of each of the 60 subject assessment panels involved.
HEFCE stressed that the exercise will be not a mechanistic adding-up exercise - reinforcing the message already conveyed the abolition of a crude publications count and former chief executive Graeme Davies's warning this summer that assessments would take account of long-term research culture and potential. Professor Fender said: "The panels are there to make a hard-headed judgement and should have plenty of information on which to make it."
Bahram Bekhradnia, head of policy at HEFCE, pointed to the six pages - one in 1992 - allowed in submissions for the outlining of research strategy.
This is emphasised in the criteria document, which says that panels should take the recruitment and employment circumstances of staff into account. This will apply to departments with a significant proportion of research-active staff on short-term contracts, contracted for only a minority of their time or recruited recently.