Panel head rejects bias claim

January 10, 1997

ENVIRONMENTAL science heads have attacked their research assessment exercise panel for being "biased" against them.

But panel chairman Michael Worthington has dismissed their argument.

The assessment panel covering environmental sciences had another role in also having to handle the assessment of earth sciences. Before the assessment began, the Committee of Heads of Environmental Science wrote to the Higher Education Funding Council, complaining that the nine-member panel was dominated by earth scientists, and was not qualified to assess environmental science.

Environmental scientists now argue that their fears have been confirmed as earth science significantly outperformed environmental science in the RAE.

A mere 18 per cent of environmental science departments attained the higher grades four or five, while 52 per cent of earth science departments enjoyed grades at these higher levels. At the bottom end of the scale, 58 per cent of environmental science departments scored a grade two or lower, while only 18 per cent from earth sciences performed similarly badly.

Panel chairman Professor Worthington, who is himself an earth scientist, said he "totally rejects" claims that dominant research interests in the panel adversely affected the grading of environmental science. "I did receive some comments from vice chancellors before the exercise suggesting that the composition of the panel was not broad enough to represent environmental science," he conceded. "But I set up a sub-panel of five environmental scientists to redress this."

"It is true that earth and environmental science are very diverse areas with huge breadth, so it was sensible to get outside input," he added. "I believe we made greater use of outside advisors than most of the other subject panels - we must have brought in about 50 or 60 people."

One environmental science department head, whose department scored a 3b, commented: "If there was a subcommittee, I'd love to know who they were. We have been assessed by a bunch of geologists who have just given all the money to earth sciences."

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