Public funding for research will be wrongly allocated "on a massive scale" because universities have falsified their submissions to the research assessment exercise, lecturers have claimed.
Lecturers' leaders have estimated that thousands of active researchers have been excluded from this year's RAE for spurious "strategic reasons". The result is a false picture of university research output and quality, which the funding council uses to allocate millions of pounds of public funds. The practice has also damaged individuals' careers and fostered discrimination.
The Association of University Teachers' recent summer council carried two motions attacking the RAE. A motion from the Liverpool association instructed the AUT executive to begin a full audit "to establish the extent to which research-active AUT members have been excluded from the RAE" and to campaign for rules to prevent systematic abuse.
It is believed that universities seeking to maximise their RAE ratings have registered some active research staff as inactive and suppressed their work in the official returns submitted to the Higher Education Funding Council for England at the end of March.
Some staff are excluded and hidden because their work is not deemed to be of high enough quality and could drag down overall quality ratings. Other staff, it is claimed, are excluded if their work is not perceived to fit with university-imposed preferred fields and themes thought to be most likely to impress RAE review panels.
Matt Hill, president of the AUT at Bradford University, told The THES that local university managers had been "playing an elaborate game" trying to second guess the judgements of RAE panels. "These guesses have led to the strategic exclusion of academic staff from the official returns in numbers that almost certainly run into thousands," he said.
He said the internal processes were secretive, meaning decisions to exclude staff, which have big implications for career prospects, are unaccountable. But there were also "broader consequences of public concern".
"Put simply, universities are falsifying their returns to Hefce as a matter of policy. If the exercise is allowed to continue, the effect of the strategic approach to the RAE adopted by the universities will be a misapplication of public funds on a massive scale".
Mr Hill called for a moratorium on the process.
The AUT council delegates heard a number of anecdotal cases in which researchers had been allegedly excluded for spurious reasons. The Liverpool AUT motion, carried with a large majority, said that the whole RAE process had caused "distress, anxiety and demoralisation" for staff. The motion instructs the AUT executive to conduct an audit of exclusions and to negotiate national agreements with Universities UK "to obtain guarantees that exclusion from the RAE will not affect the status of the individual as a research active scholar".
Another motion attacking the exercise, from the AUT women's committee, was carried. It said the RAE processes "were neither transparent, nor fair", and were likely to have discriminated against women in particular.