Remark about department's absence excised from report

March 26, 2009

An official report on the strength of research in Middle Eastern and African studies has been edited to remove references to a university's failure to submit in that category in the research assessment exercise.

The University of Leeds lost two professors from its department of Arabic and Middle Eastern studies just before the deadline for submissions in 2007. Ian Netton and Dionisius Agius had both been at Leeds for more than a decade.

The timing of their departure prompted speculation about Leeds' decision not to submit research in a category it had entered in 2001. Even the RAE overview report remarked on it. But it has emerged that this was deleted from the report by a panel of experts after Leeds complained to the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

The subject overview was apparently written by the panel chair, Carole Hillenbrand, professor of Islamic history at the University of Edinburgh. It was meant to reflect the views of all the panel members, which included Professor Netton.

In a section comparing RAE 2008 with its predecessor in 2001, it said: "Leeds was hit hard by the loss of two distinguished senior staff relatively late in the cycle and as a result chose not to make a ... submission."

Just a few days after the report was published in January, the line was removed.

Hefce said that this was the only alteration to any of the 67 subject overview reports and that it followed "representations" from Leeds. It said the change was in keeping with advice that the overview reports "where possible should avoid references to specific institutions". Despite this, references to other universities are scattered throughout the reports.

Professor Netton denied that he had any hand in writing the report that remarked on his departure from Leeds. Both he and Professor Agius are now at the University of Exeter, which was ranked the lowest of the eight institutions to submit in Middle Eastern and African studies.

Professor Hillenbrand and Leeds declined to comment, although Leeds said it was "delighted" with its RAE performance.

john.gill@tsleducation.com.

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