Life in the Twiglet zone

January 3, 1997

COMPUTER SCIENCES: EDINBURGH UNIVERSITY 1992 rating: 5 1996 rating: 5

Bowls of abandoned Twiglets and untouched champagne festooned the end-of-term party for Edinburgh University's informatics planning unit. The unspoken question was whose research had let the unit down.

In 1992 the department got a 5 and had high hopes of a 5-star this time round. The fact that the unit scored only 5, while six of its rivals in the computer sciences field scored 5-star ratings came as an unpleasant surprise. Michael Fourman, director of the unit, said: "Many of us feel that we might be more akin to the 5-stars."

Since the last RAE, the unit has tried to recruit young staff who combine expertise in both theory and practice across the unit's diverse fields of research. It has also increased emphasis on both postgraduate and undergraduate teaching. The IPU totals 310 members including 46 academic staff and 75 research staff. Its RAE submission included 80 research-active staff, the largest number of any department in the computer sciences unit of assessment.

The unit relies on the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council for Pounds 2.7 million of its Pounds 6.5 million research funding. Describing the RAE as an "important lever for funding", Professor Fourman was hopeful that the unit's failure to achieve a 5-star rating would not damage its funding prospects.

He pointed out that according to the last RAE's funding formula, the IPU's large submission of research-active staff would stand it in good stead. Several of its 5-star rivals failed to achieve an A rating for percentage of staff submitted.

The unit has worked since the last RAE to bring together its various departments - computer science, artificial intelligence, the centre for cognitive science and the human communication research centre - through the exchange of ideas and joint projects.

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