Hesa to report RAE exclusions - if v-cs approve

April 3, 2008

Vice-chancellors will have the option to make public how many of their research-active academics they have excluded from the 2008 research assessment exercise.

Alongside the RAE results, the Higher Education Statistics Agency has agreed to publish in December figures that reveal how many staff at each higher education institution were eligible for inclusion in the RAE and whether or not they were submitted.

Universities would be able to invoke an opt-out clause to keep their numbers out of the returns.

Hesa outlined the news in a letter to university heads after its board made the decision, which received the support of Universities UK.

The decision will make it easier to see whether universities' RAE strategies have been tougher on staff than in previous years. It will also make it easier to see which universities are more research active than others.

On their own, the RAE results report only on those staff selected for submission. This makes it possible for an institution with hardly any research activity to achieve high grades.

Bahram Bekhradnia, the director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said: "Without this contextual information, it would not be possible to interpret what the RAE results mean in terms of the research quality and power of an institution as a whole."

Steve Smith, chairman of the 1994 Group of small research-intensive universities, said: "The staff data give a lot more context to the results. (They) will show the strength of the depth of the research environment, which is an important mark of research quality."

It remains to be seen how many universities will opt out of Hesa's plans, preferring instead to see the information enter the public domain as a matter of routine in May 2009 or to leave it to emerge through requests under the Freedom of Information Act.

"Many will prefer not to have it published, I am sure," Dr Bekhradnia said, "but not allowing it to be published would make it pretty obvious why."

The Higher Education Funding Council for England previously decided not to require the inclusion of the staff data in the RAE returns for 2008, although this had been provided in earlier years, on the grounds that it was irrelevant for funding allocations.

But the decision had caused consternation among 1994 Group members, who in the previous RAE submitted higher proportions of staff compared with large research-intensive universities and so have been keen to see the figure recognised.

A spokesperson for Hefce said: "Hesa are a separate independent body, and it is up to them to decide what they collect and publish."

A spokesperson for UUK said: "Since publication would be non-statutory, it is still open to any individual institution not to supply Hesa with these data."

zoe.corbyn@tsleducation.com.

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