Fields yield reduced crop

December 14, 2001

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

Greenwich University: Natural Resources Institute
1996 score 4, 2001 score 3a
Staff: 47 (full-time equivalent)

The Natural Resources Institute was part of the overseas development administration in the foreign and commonwealth office until 1996. Its staff, new to university life, suddenly found themselves confronted by the 1996 research assessment exercise and only just had time to pull together submissions.

So they were very pleasantly surprised when they were awarded 4 for their agriculture research, making it one of Greenwich's highest rated departments.

"Submitting to the RAE was completely new, so we hadn't planned very much," said Andrew Westby, director of research at the NRI.

"We were lucky to get in. This time we were more prepared. We spent more time collecting data. It was a longer process, which was more thought through and less intensive."

The NRI is a multidisciplinary centre for research, training and consultancy into sustainable development worldwide. It employs 120 researchers in disciplines ranging from atmospheric physics to social anthropology. Most of its work is research rather than teaching.

The funding the NRI received enabled it to employ 40 to 50 PhD students to carry out fundamental cutting-edge research.

"We have benefited greatly," Professor Westby said. "It has helped us to build a research profile within the university, increase the PhD portfolio and allowed us to focus on quality and upstream research."

For the 1996 RAE, the institute submitted 40 staff to five units of assessment, agriculture being the largest. This time, it submitted 50 staff who work predominantly in pest management of crops in developing countries. It also submitted staff to the development studies unit for the first time. Professor Westby is concerned that this is a large number and that departments in other institutions submit fewer staff to concentrate quality, but "we felt this was a reflection of what we're doing".

In RAE 2001, the institute was hoping to have done at least as well as last time. Professor Westby pointed out that most of its research is international so the rating of the departments should reflect this. But, he said: "We're still learning at this game."

Last summer, the NRI was forced to halve its staff count owing to an accounting error that led to a £5 million shortfall in 1999-2000.

RAE 2001 league tables compiled by The THES.

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