Please stop rankings

August 28, 1998

I am dismayed that the Association of Learned Societies in the Social Sciences has nothing better to do with its time than to initiate yet another competitive ranking exercise (THES, August 21).

It is bad enough that the powers that be inflict on us the research assessment exercise, the Quality Assessment Agency, the funding councils, etc; all of which erode the old collegiality with pointless and divisive competition, not to mention creating a transfer market that gives a few lucky stars an inflated sense of their own worth. But why on earth does a voluntary association that was set up to unite rather than divide choose to play the same perverse game?

What ALSISS should be doing is starkly illustrated by the latest A-level results, which show an alarming fall in those taking the core social science disciplines. Economics fell 10 per cent below last year - not 0.3 per cent as reported by The THES - and sociology and politics slipped 7 per cent.

There were fewer than 55,000 entries in the three subjects -Jthan 7 per cent of all A levels sat. This is not a recruiting base that should allow any British social scientist to be complacent. Someone should be out there making the case for social science; and who if not ALSISS?

A sensible ALSISS would also be working to break the outdated barriers between disciplines and agitating to ensure that it is not just pure luck whether the United Kingdom happens to train even a single expert on faraway countries such as Indonesia. But this lot, it seems, would rather play narcissistic parlour games. Just another bunch of rankers.

Aidan Foster-Carter, Honorary senior research fellow in sociology and modern Korea, Leeds University.

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