Staff lose out in wily bids for RAE cash

July 6, 2001

Young researchers and women are being excluded from the research assessment exercise to the detriment of their careers, according to trade unions. Unions also fear the exercise could also polarise teaching and research.

Funding chiefs met the heads of research-led universities this week to discuss how the results of the RAE would be presented for institutions that have increased the proportion of staff classified as research inactive.

While some institutions tell staff whether their work was included in the relevant submission, others are less forthcoming.

This tension led one researcher to use the Data Protection Act to force the funding council to divulge any information that it held on him in order to discover his standing within the department.

Fewer staff have been entered for the exercise this year, as administrators attempt to mimic the University of Oxford's successful strategy in the 1996 exercise.

By including only the best researchers, they hope to maximise research funding by gaining higher-quality grades even though they will be funded according to the proportion of staff they submit.

In 1996, Oxford submitted 90 per cent of its staff for assessment, 75 per cent of whom attained the top 5* grade; the University of Cambridge submitted 98 per cent of its staff, 62 per cent of whom attained a 5* grade.

Despite receiving cash for fewer staff, Oxford gets more research money from the funding council than Cambridge.

Paul Cottrell, assistant general secretary of the Association of University Teachers, said: "Overall this year, there seems to have been a much more strategic approach and a lot of people have been excluded for strategic reasons even when they are quite clearly research active.

"We are concerned about the consequences for equal opportunities for young researchers and women.

"People are devastated at being formally classified as research inactive - they get very distressed and angry," he added.

Tom Wilson, head of the universities department at lecturers' union Natfhe, said: "In all the cases we have taken up, we got the head of department to tell the individual.

"Obviously, if members of staff were not included, it would have a negative impact on them. It means they are going to get all the teaching dumped on them.

"It is a disastrous, unintended consequence of the system, particularly in the new universities which seek to protect their star researchers.

"This polarisation runs contrary to the idea that good research informs good teaching."

  • The total number of submissions to the 2001 RAE was 2,597 - down 10 per cent on the 1996 figure.

The number of staff classified as research active also fell. The figures are not strictly comparable, but the decline is estimated as 10 per cent.

The outputs selected for assessment fell by 4 per cent.

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