Research profiling puts UCU noses out of joint

November 4, 2010

The University and College Union has condemned the University of Manchester's decision to repeat an exercise that assigns numerical scores to staff on the basis of their research output.

Manchester carried out its first "research profiling exercise" last year and plans to repeat it annually. Faculty-based panels, containing representatives from each constituent school as well as from other faculties and universities, assign the scores on the basis of each individual's publications, grants, student supervisions and impact over the previous five years.

In an email sent to its members in Manchester last month, the UCU says staff should boycott the exercise by refusing to submit data or join the judging panels.

It adds that the union does not object to the university maintaining data on staff's research output or discussing with individuals how to improve their performance, but describes as unacceptable the assignment of "arbitrary" numerical scores.

"This is particularly problematic when the scores are assigned by an internal panel, which (in most cases) has no specialist knowledge of the individual's research field or circumstances," it says.

The UCU also notes that even the research assessment exercise only assigned scores to research outputs and "factors not directly attributable to individuals, such as esteem indicators and environment".

It claims that "considerable flaws" in Manchester's profiling methodology led to scores last year that were "far from a true reflection of (academics') research standing as judged by external peers".

A spokesman for Manchester said the exercise built on the 2008 RAE and allowed the university to keep "an up-to-date check" on its research performance.

"All staff are invited to view the content of their individual research profile, adding to or amending the data where appropriate," he said.

He added that 92 per cent of eligible staff had taken part in last year's exercise, which had also been opposed by the UCU. This suggested that academics "see the value of keeping the information up to date".

paul.jump@tsleducation.com.

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