Liverpool may drop subjects ranked below 4* in RAE

Departments without 'world-leading' work face closure, says memo. Melanie Newman reports

March 12, 2009

The University of Liverpool is likely to close three departments following the results of the 2008 research assessment exercise and it is considering the future of five others.

Liverpool's departments of statistics, philosophy and politics and communication studies showed no "world-leading" (4*) activity in the 2008 RAE.

"This raises questions about whether the level of performance, bearing in mind the investment that has been made over the last RAE period, is at an acceptable level for a Russell Group university," says an internal document seen by Times Higher Education.

"It is the view of the senior management team and the deans that, given the need to invest in excellence, it is not feasible to continue to support these areas in future."

The university's academic senate was due to discuss the document at a meeting on 11 March, after Times Higher Education went to press.

The matter will then be debated by the university's governing council on 18 March, with final proposals going before the senate in June.

Liverpool is also considering closing the departments of civil engineering, cancer studies, dentistry, American studies and sociology.

These areas fell into the lowest quartile nationally, based on the percentage of "world-leading" and "internationally excellent" (3*) activity, and will be reviewed "as a matter of urgency", the document says.

It suggests "realignment and repositioning", "transfer of activity to another higher education institution" and closure as options for these departments.

Managers at Liverpool considered ceasing all research activity in up to 26 units of assessment that had not performed well in the RAE, before dismissing the idea as impractical.

In future, there will be a reduction in the number of staff who do not submit to the RAE and the university will ensure that "only 3* and 4* outputs are generated".

It will not provide support for 1* research and will support 2* research only under "exceptional circumstances".

The changes are part of plans to boost the university's research profile proposed by Sir Howard Newby, the university's vice-chancellor, and they come despite good news for the university in last week's funding allocations for 2009-10.

Liverpool enjoyed a 20 per cent increase in research funding to £39 million, and its total allocation from the Higher Education Funding Council for England for next year rose by 8.8 per cent to almost £115 million.

But the 2008 RAE placed Liverpool last or second-last of the Russell Group of 20 large research-intensive universities, whether measured by the grade-point average of its research or the percentage of activity rated 3* or 4*.

Liverpool's research grant income at £53,500 per full-time academic staff member is also lower than that of most Russell Group members, and it has fewer postgraduate research students than most of its Russell Group peers.

"Research performance needs immediate and urgent attention to move (the university) to the midway point," the document says.

As Times Higher Education went to press, the University and College Union was debating a motion on balloting for local industrial action at an extraordinary general meeting.

In an email to staff, Sir Howard said that the university would "honour all its obligations to students in any departments affected, including those entering in 2009-10" and that compulsory redundancies would be used only as a "last resort".

melanie.newman@tsleducation.com.

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