Teaching institutions draw on smaller cohort for RAE

December 7, 2007

More academics are excluded, but research establishments are bucking the trend. Zoe Corbyn reports. A strong trend among teaching-led universities to exclude more staff from the 2008 research assessment exercise than in 2001 has been confirmed by a Times Higher survey.

But there is also evidence that the trend is stopping at the doors of the elite research universities.

The Times Higher reported in November that a number of universities were dramatically increasing the proportion of academics excluded from the RAE.

With the submission deadline of November 30 now past, figures provided by the universities of Chichester, Thames Valley, Keele, Canterbury Christ Church, Northumbria, Glasgow Caledonian and City show that this year a smaller proportion of staff at these universities have had their work submitted than in previous assessments.

In the most extreme case, Chichester has submitted work by just 18.5 per cent of its academics, compared with 60 per cent in 2001.

"We feel that this RAE is operating to more exacting standards than ever before and have therefore chosen to be highly selective and play to definite strengths," said Andrew Foster, the university's director of research.

Thames Valley has submitted 11 per cent of staff (down from 19 per cent); Keele University about 50 per cent (down from 80 per cent); Canterbury Christ Church 16 per cent (down from 34 per cent); Northumbria 18 per cent (down from 31 per cent); Glasgow Caledonian 25 per cent (down from 30 per cent); and City University 62 per cent (down from 76 per cent).

The majority have also submitted in fewer units of assessment (UoAs) than previously. Northumbria, for example submitted in only 12 units (down from 22) and City in 16 (down from 25 in 2001).

As in the earlier survey, some universities are bucking the trend. Salford University has submitted work from 45 per cent of its staff (up from 38 per cent in 2001), Manchester Metropolitan University from 31 per cent (up from per cent) and Wolverhampton has submitted roughly the same proportion as in 2001 (18 per cent).

Yet figures and anecdotal evidence from the research-intensive universities tell a different story. The percentages of staff whose work they are submitting appear not to vary dramatically compared with 2001 and, if anything, are increasing.

Ian Leslie, the pro vice-chancellor for research at Cambridge, said the university had returned a "substantially bigger" proportion of staff than last time.

Royal Holloway, University of London, has submitted 91 per cent in 21 UoAs (compared to 89 per cent in 19 UoAs previously), while Sussex University has submitted 86 per cent in 26 UoAs (compared to 91 per cent in 29 UoAs previously). Surrey, Durham and St Andrews confirmed that they were also submitting high percentages.

"There has been no deliberate policy to exclude any academic who has got the papers and the income," Barry Evans, Surrey University's pro vice- chancellor for research and enterprise told The Times Higher .

Robert Allison, the pro vice-chancellor for research at Sussex, said that six academics - who would have been excluded under normal circumstances because they lacked the right number of papers - had been included after all eligible staff had been asked to detail any extenuating circumstances.

"We may have taken a high risk, but I believe that universities should be compassionate places," he said.

Malcolm Grant, University College London provost and chairman of the Russell Group of large research-intensive universities, said he was not expecting to see big changes among the percentage of staff the group's members were putting forward for the assessment, nor was he anticipating much change in the funding distribution following RAE 2008.

"I don't think (the funding distribution) is going to change that much, which will lead to some frustration.

"For universities that improve (in research quality) it will be difficult to see how they can be recognised without taking away from universities that have remained excellent," he said.

zoe.corbyn@thes.co.uk.

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