Academics at University College London have been angered by a management memo telling them they are expected to gain at least a 3* rating in the next research assessment exercise, writes Jessica Shepherd.
Dave Delphy, vice-provost for research, spells out his expectations in a draft memo to academics seen only by UCL's academic board and its senior research committee. The document was later leaked to The Times Higher.
RAE panellists award 3*s, the second-highest category, only to research that is "internationally excellent".
Professor Delphy writes: "Staff are expected consistently to produce research outputs of a quality that is internationally excellent in terms of originality, significance and rigour, ie, that meets the criteria for a rating of 3* in RAE 2008."
Representatives of the academics' union, the Association of University Teachers, have attacked the memo's content as "completely unreasonable".
They also criticised the listing of the issue as a "matter of information"
rather than a "matter for discussion" at a senior management meeting last week.
Richard Bruckdorfer, president of UCL's AUT branch, said: "It would be completely unreasonable to expect every UCL academic to get 3*. Clearly, this is okay for academics whose research is 95 per cent of their work, but that is not the norm.
"This puts enormous pressure on academics, particularly those who are teaching orientated."
He added that he was worried that staff would be dismissed if they were not awarded 3* or more in the next RAE.
Malcolm Grant, UCL's provost, has said he intends to cut the number of teaching posts funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England by 5 per cent for the next three academic years to reduce the college's £7.5 million budget deficit.
A senior research fellow at UCL, who wished to remain anonymous, said: "RAE targets are damaging enough when applied to departments. The thought that they could be applied to individuals fills me with horror."
Professor Grant denied links between cuts and RAE ratings. "The memo was a statement of aspiration absolutely appropriate for a world-class institution.
"UCL is entitled to be clear about its ambitions. We will be keeping a 3* rating as an aspiration; of course, many staff will be given 4*s."
The college said that the memo could be revised.