The ground rules for the 2008 research assessment exercise will unfairly penalise new academics in the humanities, it was claimed this week.
The rules, unveiled by the funding councils last week, create a new cut-off point for determining which academics are classified as "early-career researchers". Such researchers are required to submit fewer research papers.
Academics who entered the profession before August 31, 2003 will still have to produce four research papers or other pieces of research work for the RAE. Researchers who joined academia after this date will have to submit two pieces of work.
But even those serving as referees on RAE panels are concerned that the cut-off point - which applies across all subject areas - is unfair on academics in the humanities because it takes longer to establish a research career there than in the sciences.
Antony Duff, chair of the RAE philosophy sub-panel, said: "Institutions were asking for more uniformity across all subjects, and the main panel chairs changed the deadline hastily. I think that's misguided. It fits the science model of research but not the humanities. Publication patterns are very different between arts and sciences."
What counts as entering the profession also varied for different subjects, he said. "Many people get teaching lectureships or fellowships for the first year or two. It's unreasonable to hold that such people have been underproductive in research if they have not produced four outputs worth submitting for RAE purposes."
According to Professor Duff, the effect will be to distort research in the humanities by putting more pressure on new academics to publish quickly.
This runs counter to provisions made for other absences from research, such as prolonged illness or maternity leave, which allow researchers to submit fewer than four outputs without penalty.
Pauline Stafford, chair of the history sub-panel, said: "Many in the humanities would have preferred to keep the earlier date. There's a long lead-in time for humanities work, and we were also very aware that there's a pattern in young people's careers where they go through a series of short one-year appointments that will count when it comes to calculating entry into the profession."
She said that it was very difficult to take such patterns into account, but departments that had recruited many such people would be looked at carefully.
"We've also been generous as to what we will accept as publication. For instance, web publications will count. We don't want to discourage the appointment of these people," Professor Stafford added George Newlands, chair of the theology sub-panel, said the humanities were so diverse that some areas would face more problems than others.