Orlan Lee, writing about higher education in Hong Kong in your review of the Commonwealth, regrettably perpetuates a myth about the research assessment exercises undertaken by the University Grants Committee here (THES, August 14).
The committee has repeatedly stressed that the RAE cannot and does not attempt to "judge every scholar's career by a picture of what has occurred in any one particular calendar-defined five-year capsule". The purpose of the exercise is to assess each institution's research performance for funding purposes - that is, as a means of determining how best to apportion among Hong Kong's publicly funded higher education institutions (of which there are now eight) under the aegis of the UGC, part of the funding provided for their research and other scholarly activities not directly related to teaching.
While the exercise involves the assessment of individuals' research output broadly as described by Orlan Lee, the UGC fully recognises the limited scope of the exercise in relation to the broader qualitative assessment of individual academics' performance in research and other scholarly activities. It has therefore repeatedly stated that the results of the RAE should not be used for individual performance assessment.
This must obviously be undertaken via a much more detailed scrutiny by colleagues and peers in the discipline and at the institutional level. The guidance notes for the 1999 exercise will include further safeguards against inappropriate use of the RAE results.
The recently published consultation document and draft guidance notes for our next RAE can be found on the UGC website (http://www.ugc.edu.hk).
Nigel J. French
University Grants Committee of Hong Kong, China