Concerns that the research assessment exercise is deepening inequality in universities intensified this week as it emerged that an employment tribunal chairman had criticised the exercise in a recent race discrimination ruling, writes Phil Baty.
In a judgment on a race claim against Nottingham University, Tudor Garnon, chairman of the Nottingham tribunal, warned that the RAE helped to create a "play-it-safe mentality" that encouraged managers to "recruit from within the established British academic community", leading to the potential exclusion of ethnic minorities.
Roger Kline, Natfhe's head of universities, said: "The RAE is a sloppy and impressionistic process that is judged by an elitist network of academics dominated by (those from) old universities who often fall back on what they know and who they know."
Under the exercise, all university departments compete for a slice of more than £1 billion each year, based on an assessment by expert panels of the quality of each researcher's output.
In his judgment against Nottingham, Mr Garnon found that the university had victimised lecturer Suresh Deman when its Business School failed to shortlist him for a number of jobs as a result of his previous record of race litigation. The wider RAE process played no part in his reasoning in relation to the legal claims upheld.
But Mr Garnon said that the "indirect effect of the business and management RAE panel's criteria comes into play" in explaining "the predominantly white European ethnicity of the teaching staff in the Business School".
He said there was no doubt that employers were encouraged to "play it safe", because they have to guess what might please the RAE panel when the panel does not read research papers and does not make public their views on the relative merit of journals.
A spokesman for the Higher Education Funding Council for England, which runs the RAE, said it would not comment on a tribunal judgment.