Games people play to stay in research race

May 19, 2000

A 66-year-old professor at a Midlands university is under orders not to retire until the research assessment exercise is complete. Without his books and papers, the research productivity of his department will plummet. Elsewhere, as we report this week (page 4), second-rank researchers are vanishing from the books when research quality is assessed, only to reappear when quantity is measured. And we are in that delicious phase when anyone leaving one university for another can be counted by both in their RAE submissions.

Games playing is unavoidable when Britain's cleverest people are competing for large sums of money. This may not be an argument for abolishing the RAE. Measuring research output is one of the more legitimate ways of assessing academics, and, in making excellence visible, the RAE has allowed departments and individuals to build reputations. It has also played an odd role in bringing distinguished outsiders in closer contact with universities, with professionals, think-tankers and the like sought after as visiting professors.

If the RAE is to continue, however, constant vigilance will be needed to make sure the rewards do not go disproportionately to the best games players rather than the best researchers. So in a spirit of openness, The THES is compiling a rule book for all to share. Please let us know, preferably by email to editor@thes.co.uk, what games people are playing.

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