RAE 2008: Support for young staff will lift rating (arts and humanities)

July 22, 2005

Arts and humanities departments will need to demonstrate how they foster the careers of young academics in the 2008 research assessment exercise, writes Paul Hill.

Panel chairs who will oversee the assessments in subjects spanning history and philosophy, geography, modern languages and area studies stressed that the next RAE will take account of how departments work to "sustain" their subjects in future.

It also appears that each panel will take a subtly different approach to how it assesses a department's overall performance.

Different weightings will be applied to departments' "output, environment and esteem", the three key measures of research quality being used in the exercise.

But the key assessment, for all panels, will remain a department's research output - academic papers, for example - accounting for between 70 per cent and 80 per cent of an RAE research rating.

Too heavy an emphasis on research environment, including departmental plans and research income, might "disadvantage departments whose historic levels of resource have not been high, but which have shown capacity to produce quality outputs", according to one of the draft guidance documents published this week.

There will also be variety in approaches to the so-called super-book issue, with differences between the arts and humanities panels in terms of whether one large piece of research submitted is counted as two or the maximum four outputs.

More honest
Judie Newman of Nottingham University, who chairs Panel L - which covers American studies, Middle Eastern and African studies, Asian and European studies - said the 2008 RAE would be "more honest and transparent".

Her panel will give a 70 per cent weighting to research outputs, 15 per cent to the research environment and 15 per cent to esteem.

"One of the concepts we were keen to establish was esteem appropriate to career age," Professor Newman said.

"That could be whether an academic made some major contribution to the public good, something involving the media, for example, which would be an esteem indicator appropriate for that stage in their career.

"We were all conscious last time that there was a problem of one or two star academics in a department. We have said this time that we want to see the spread of esteem across a department."

"We are not supposed to deform the way research is carried out, but in the criteria we are welcoming the encouragement of younger members of staff and their careers - that is the future after all."

The super-book issue
Panel N - which includes classics, ancient and modern history, Byzantine and modern Greek studies, philosophy, theology, divinity and religious studies - is chaired by Martin Daunton of Cambridge University.

Professor Daunton's panel will give an 80 per cent weighting to outputs, 15 per cent to research environment and 5 per cent to esteem.

Particular attention has been paid to the question of how to assess big pieces of research - and to avoid creating "perverse incentives" for large projects to be sliced into small units, he said.

"The important point is the amount of effort that has been expended in producing the output," Professor Daunton said. "You could go away and write a 500-page book without doing much research.

"On the other hand, you could spend years using very difficult sources that might produce only a short article. It's about trying to assess the amount of effort expended on a piece of work.

"There are some cases where, of course, it will be a super-book. But this is not really about big books - it is big projects, big pieces of research that will stand the test of time."

Panel H covers architecture and the built environment, town and country planning, geography and environmental studies and archaeology. It is chaired by Nigel Thrift of Oxford University.

The panel will attach a 75 per cent weighting to research outputs, 15 per cent to environment and 10 per cent to esteem. Super-book submissions would count as two outputs.

Professor Thrift said that particular care had been taken to ensure that practice-based and applied research had appropriate weighting compared with other forms of academic work.

"Clarity, transparency and fairness - we are hoping the consultation will allow us to demonstrate the improvement to the system," he added.

Panel M covers Russian, Slavonic and East European languages, French, German, Dutch and Scandinavian languages, Italian, Iberian, Latin American languages, Celtic studies, English language and literature, and linguistics. It is chaired by Nigel Vincent of Manchester University.

The panel will attach a 75 per cent weighting to research outputs, 20 per cent to research environment and 5 per cent to esteem.

But, unlike Professor Daunton's panel, Panel M will use its discretion in deciding whether a super-book submission should count as one or up to four papers.

According to the guidance document, which suggests how the panel will work, Professor Vincent's team will also take account of the different modes in which research appears in the different subjects - from translations and creative writing to the performance of play and the authorship of teaching materials.

The guidance states that applied research "aims to create new or improved systems (of thought or production), artefacts, products, processes, materials, devices or services for long-term economic, social and/or cultural benefit... it is informed by the intellectual infrastructure of scholarly research in the field".

Like the other arts and humanities panels, Panel M will also look for evidence of esteem "appropriate to the stage the individual has reached in his/her career".

Professor Vincent was unavailable for comment.


Reaction: 'Emphasis on subjects welcome'
The scope for arts and humanities departments to improve their research assessment exercise rating by demonstrating how they help sustain subjects was welcomed by academics this week, writes Paul Hill.

Philip Davies, chairman of the United Kingdom Council for Area Studies Associations, said: "The sense with the last RAE was that it was a matter of publications - all or nothing. If up to 30 per cent of weighting will now reflect other things - such as development of younger members of staff - I think it is a very valuable step."

Roger Woods, chairman of the University Council of Modern Languages, agreed that the premium that departments would get for sustaining subjects was welcome. Some language departments that achieved high RAE scores last time had "received pretty rough treatment" in their own institutions.

"My general impression is that a 20 per cent weighting for research environment for Panel M is higher than for other panels. This is no bad thing, if it encourages universities to invest in the renewal of the profession by funding postgraduate studentships and so on," Professor Woods added.

"If panel chairs are looking to put more emphasis on sustainability of subjects and help for staff early in their career, this is no bad thing: it is tough getting a job as a lecturer in modern languages, and it is even tougher once you get the job."


Panel H

Architecture and the built environment; town and country planning; geography and environmental studies; archaeology.

  • Outputs: 75 per cent
  • Environment: 15 per cent
  • Esteem: 10 per cent
  • Super-books: will count as two outputs.

Panel L

American studies and anglophone area studies; Middle Eastern and African studies; Asian studies; European studies.

  • Outputs: 70 per cent
  • Environment: 15 per cent
  • Esteem: 15 per cent
  • Super-books: the panel will use discretion to decide how many outputs a super-book represents.

Panel M

Russian, Slavonic and East European languages; French; German, Dutch and Scandinavian languages; Italian; Iberian and Latin American languages; Celtic studies; English language and literature; linguistics.

  • Outputs: 75 per cent
  • Research: 20 per cent
  • Esteem: 5 per cent
  • Super-books: the panel will use discretion as to how many outputs a super-book represents.

Panel N

Classics, ancient history, Byzantine and modern Greek studies; philosophy; theology, divinity and religious studies; history.

  • Outputs: 80 per cent
  • Environment: 15 per cent
  • Esteem: 5 per cent
  • Super-books: a maximum of two outputs.

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