Panels grow but discontent lingers

Hispanists claim they are still under-represented despite concessions in Ref. Paul Jump writes

April 14, 2011

Controversy lingers over the composition of one of the subpanels for the 2014 research excellence framework despite the appointment of an extra member.

The Higher Education Funding Council for England has published a revised list of subpanel members after a number of subpanels concluded at their initial meetings that they needed more members.

The law subpanel has recruited two extra members, and it is understood that Hefce has also asked law subject associations to make further nominations in specific areas of law.

Meanwhile, an extra Germanist has been added to the modern languages and linguistics subpanel.

However, Philip Swanson, head of the department of Hispanic studies at the University of Sheffield and president of the Association of Hispanists of Great Britain and Ireland, said the recruitment only exacerbated the under-representation of his field since "it now has the same number of subpanellists as Germanic studies, despite being a larger and more wide-ranging discipline".

Hispanists have previously complained about the lack of research assessment exercise experience among their three representatives, and Professor Swanson said some were wondering whether older hands would have been more successful in lobbying for extra members.

But Graeme Rosenberg, Hefce's Ref manager, pointed out that the "number and volume" of submissions made to the 2008 subpanels in German, Dutch and Scandinavian languages and Iberian and Latin American languages were "virtually identical".

Some smaller languages such as Portuguese remain without any representation. But David Frier, senior lecturer in Portuguese at the University of Leeds, said he had been reassured that the subpanel would be "canvassing opinion widely on the parameters of the Ref" and would be co-opting additional members "for the really key stage: that of assessment".

"We absolutely want a specialist Lusitanist on board at that stage, and while no guarantee has been given that this will happen, I have no reason to believe it won't," he said.

But Professor Swanson said that Hefce's assertion that the current subpanels were "only there for the criteria-setting period" represented a "backtracking" on the original "raison d'être" of the subpanels, as it was depicted to the nominating bodies.

"This is obviously some sort of response to criticism, but for others it gives the impression of disarray. My own sense is that this has been handled so poorly that confidence in the system is pretty badly damaged," he said.

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