Music schools call for a change of tune

December 13, 2002

Music professors and conservatoire heads are still contesting their "astonishing" research grades a year after the results were published.

The conservatoires believe that assessors took more notice of explanatory notes than the musical performances. They have called for an overhaul of assessment methods for research-based musical performance.

The conservatoires have condemned the approach adopted in last year's research assessment exercise as a "fiasco" and have said that a repeat could financially cripple some leading institutions and departments.

The National Association for Music in Higher Education has warned of widespread disaffection in music circles over the criteria and results of practice-based research in RAE 2001 and told the Higher Education Funding Council for England that the issue was in need of "extensive revisiting".

In its submission to Hefce's RAE review, the association says the exercise has become a "bogey" that threatens to fix "a gulf between the haves and the have-nots, and also between centres of excellence and isolated individuals". The submission followed loud protests from the UK's leading music conservatoires, whose research was downgraded en masse after last year's RAE from a 5 to a 4.

But Hefce has so far declined to respond to their appeal against the downgrading.

Curtis Price, principal of the Royal Academy of Music, said institutions and departments were "astonished" at the RAE results, which had left many struggling financially after years of investment into research.

He said: "We are continuing to invest in research through performance, but with less money - so we may now be in a downward spiral. It is up to Hefce to justify why we were downgraded when so much extra good work had been done. It has been a fiasco."

Stephen Banfield, Elgar professor of music at the University of Birmingham and chairman of the National Association for Music in Higher Education, said: "The bone of contention is whether the message has got across as to what research in performance entails. The practitioners have been working with one set of criteria but the RAE panel clearly had another. There is no agreed definition because at the moment there is no body that has the authority to make one."

Hefce declined to comment on the grounds that the RAE review was still in progress.

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