Union prepares to fight for the abolition of RAE

May 26, 2000

New university lecturers are set for a clash with funding chiefs over the future of research funding.

Lecturers' union Natfhe is to demand the abolition of the research assessment exercise at its annual conference in Blackpool this weekend after reports that the funding council's fundamental review of the RAE is to maintain the status quo. Natfhe has put forward plans for a non-selective system of research funding, based on staff numbers instead of quality assessment.

The conference motion condemns the five-yearly dash for research cash as unfair, wasteful and damaging to "genuine research needs".

The motion, from the southern region, comes with the backing of Natfhe's executive, which published a discussion paper on an alternative research funding regime this week. It wants a gradual redistribution of re-search resources to create a more even spread of cash, with funding in some areas based on research-active staff numbers, with no competitive quality assessment.

The Natfhe paper claims that the "highly selective" RAE means that new universities are penalised in favour of a tiny elite of old universities.

Just 26 of the UK's 100 or so research-active higher education institutions shared 75 per cent of the available funds under the last RAE in 1996. New universities and colleges of higher education were left to share just 7 per cent of the total funds available.

The paper says: "One of Natfhe's primary concerns has always been that the RAE tends to reward the status quo in research... and perpetuates current models of excellence" at the expense of more innovative "action research" practised largely by new universities.

It also warns that the RAE rewards the past, without helping develop future work, encourages the neglect of teaching, penalises teaching specialists or those with heavy teaching loads, creates salary distortions and penalises women for maternity leave and career breaks.

Natfhe is also concerned that the elitism is perpetuated by the dominance of academics from old universities on the peer- review assessment panels.

The motion will urge the replacement of the RAE "with a resource allocation process driven by genuine research needs".

Natfhe is ready with an alternative model that would enable a gradual redistribution of the resources, leading to a more even spread between institutions.

While selectivity could be maintained in some cases, it would not be universally applied to a rigid formula. Some subject areas could be funded entirely on the basis of staff numbers, Natfhe said.

Natfhe also said that there could be a redistribution of resources between academic fields, ending historical anomalies that unfairly penalise newer emerging disciplines.

"Institutions should be invited to submit a research and scholarship 'mission'," the paper says. "The logical extension of such an approach would be for institutions to develop their overall institutional mission into a mission-based case for funding for research, scholarship and teaching."

Other conference motions include: an executive motion that reaffirms Natfhe's "total opposition to attempts to introduce performance-related pay" in post-16 institutions; a separate higher education motion condemning the plans as "obnoxious and demeaning"; and an expression of concern at the "higher education employers' attempts to 'cherry pick' from the Bett Report" into pay and conditions".

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