RAE fuels trend for research only time

January 19, 2007

Upwardly mobile institutions increasingly offer posts with reduced teaching loads. Olga Wojtas reports

The looming 2008 research assessment exercise is galvanising universities into offering new recruits reduced teaching loads and ring-fenced time to carry out research.

Paisley University has an advertisement in this week's Times Higher for chairs and readerships "in areas where further improved performance in RAE 2008 is expected". These include not only accountancy and finance, and European studies, respectively rated 5 and 4 in the previous RAE, but also education, which was not submitted. Paisley's work allocation model will give the new appointees two years of ring-fenced time; existing staff who have done well in research in the previous two years are rewarded by a reduced teaching load.

Hassan T. Hassan, Paisley's vice-principal for research and commercialisation, said: "These are primarily research posts. We attract £4 million in external research income, and our aim is to build on this. The key criterion is a record of research excellence."

Leicester University, which is anxious to beef up its RAE performance, trebled its response rate when it advertised 21 "new blood" lectureships last year. These guaranteed reduced teaching loads and start-up funding for future research stars. The university said "the applications pool was impressively strong", and it attracted an average of almost 50 applicants per post compared to just over 16 for previously advertised lectureships.

Richard Taylor, Leicester's director of marketing, said: "One of the main aims was to strengthen our hand for the RAE, and I think we succeeded at that."

An Ulster University spokesman said that details of time devoted to research were worked out as part of the recruitment interview.

Nigel Brown, director of science and technology at the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and former head of chemistry and biological sciences at Birmingham University, said: "All universities have the same aims and objectives, and a number of universities are endeavouring to increase their research impact through various measures."

Some universities may have been encouraged to set aside research time by the introduction of Trac (transparent approach to costing), which forced institutions to identify the full costs of research. Professor Brown said Trac helped to clarify academics' contribution to teaching and research.


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