The diary

April 23, 2004

Sick of the RAE

The Association of University Teachers has produced a crib sheet on a disease of the brain sweeping the nation's universities. Edited highlights are reproduced here.

RAE disease - frequently asked questions

What is RAE disease?

Its proper name is research assessment exercise-related academic encephalopathy or RAE-RAE. It affects senior university managers and was first noticed in the early 1990s, some years after the first research assessment exercise. While the infectious agent has yet to be isolated, the long incubation period - often starting before the end of the previous RAE - suggests that the responsible agent is a prion. At present, there is no way of immunising those at risk. As a precaution, one should refuse a blood transfusion if the donor is a senior university manager.

Who is most at risk?

Vice-chancellors and their deputies, deans of faculties and their deputies, senior administrators; heads of schools, heads of larger departments and unit of assessment coordinators who are appointed to supervise an RAE return that consists of more than one university department.

What are the symptoms?

Any symptoms indicating overreaction to the RAE to the extent of obsession or compulsion may be present. Depending on the status of the affected person, these may include paying or offering to pay large transfer fees to attract academics with a good research record; haggling about who gets returned in which unit of assessment; threatening staff with compulsory redundancy with possible re-employment after the RAE; altering the status of personnel between academic and related staff to optimise the RAE return; bullying junior staff, along the lines of "if you aren't returnable in the RAE, don't expect your contract to be renewed"; making staff members honorary fellows of a department other than their own, and returning them accordingly, to improve the RAE rating; and spending inordinate amounts of time on RAE paperwork.

I think my line manager has RAE-RAE - what should I do?

Suggest that they get some medical help. Health professionals should seek advice from the Medical Research Council Prion Diseases Unit in London. In the event of bullying, harassment or job threats, contact your campus union and ask for the RAE disease officer. If you aren't in the trade union, join it.

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