Subject panels in need of 'users' to get funding

October 8, 1999

Funding for research in languages, maths, law, geography and psychology may suffer because the panels assessing them for the next research assessment exercise do not include industry and public sector users.

"Users account for some 12 per cent of total panel membership (for the 2001 RAE). If there are no users on a panel, that sends an important political message," said John Rogers, who manages the RAE for the funding councils.

Last December, the Department for Education and Employment's annual letter to the Higher Education Funding Council for England stated: "The secretary of state would like the council ... to find ways of ... involving in the assessment process informed independent members with research expertise from outside United Kingdom universities and colleges."

The HEFCE wrote to 300 professional, industrial and business organisations, asking them to nominate potential members.

Membership for 50 of the 60 panels was completed by the end of September. The THES has calculated that some 40 per cent of the panels do not include users. These covered subjects which accounted for 22 per cent of HEFCE's research grants for 1999-2000.

The psychology panel and the geography panel both intend to establish sub-panels of users, and the law panel is "considering the involvement of users of research within the assessment process". However three mathematical panels and at least three of the language panels make no mention of users of research in their statements of criteria and working methods.

Celia Britton of the University of Aberdeen, who chairs the French panel for the 2001 RAE, said: "It is not a hostile gesture. We don't have anything against having a user on the panel. We considered it and discussed it but we could not think of anyone."

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