Following the report (THES, August 11) by your Scottish editor on the comments made by Chris Masters relating to the recently revealed quality assessments, I feel that there are two points which, in fairness, should be made.
One recalls the old Scottish saying - "they are all out of step except our Jock". If small groups view a sample of the activities within each cognate area within each institution, albeit in depth, and their findings differ consistently with regards to their evaluation of quality from that submitted by those institutions, and this occurrence is again reasonably consistent over differing cognate areas, and generally varies in one direction, ie downwards, is it not at least worthy of investigation as to whether the small group approach perhaps has flaws which lead to this result instead of assuming, as Dr Masters appears to do, that it is only the institutions which have regularly got it wrong?
The second point is that of playing the system, which academic institutions have learned to do as a survival technique in recent years. Dr Masters is reported to have stated ". . . the institutions' view of themselves compared to the view their peers take of them is still so much at odds" (ie the institutions overstate their self-assessments). On the figures quoted in the article it would appear that, on average, the cognate areas had overstated their self-assessments roughly by one level in each case. This is consistent with figures which I have seen in other areas.
Taking the 11 areas of assessment - if there is little chance of upgrading; if the best that one can really expect is to have your self-assessment confirmed; if the equally likely outcome is to be downgraded by one level; and if it is quite possible that a down grading of two levels will occur is it any wonder that institutions will go for a higher level of self-assessment if there is any doubt between the levels of assessment. This is simply a rational approach to attempt to maximise the result.
It would be useful to have released into the public domain background information such as the detailed institutional self-assessments in the 11 areas and the resulting funding council assessments for each of these for each cognate area and for each institution.
Surely we should expect the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council to adopt a more analytical approach to such an important subject, rather than those simplistic ones reported.
The comments in this letter are made in a personal capacity.
PROFESSOR J. E. McLACHLAN