V-cs add to RAE clamour

April 7, 2006

Almost a third of university heads would scrap the 2008 research assessment exercise, according to a poll by The Times Higher .

The revelation that so many vice-chancellors would get rid of the RAE follows the surprise announcement in Chancellor Gordon Brown's Budget that the Treasury wants to replace the 2008 exercise with a more simple metrics-based assessment.

Of the 81 vice-chancellors who replied to the survey, 24 said they would kill off the RAE before the 2008 exercise. One said: "Scrap it! Completely and utterly!"

Two thirds of vice-chancellors were in favour of going ahead with the 2008 exercise, but the dissenting voices were significant.

David VandeLinde, vice-chancellor of Warwick University, said: "My strong personal preference would be to scrap the RAE completely. However, realistically this is unlikely to happen. We would all be much better off if we replaced the RAE with metrics for science, mathematics and statistics, engineering, technology and medicine, at a minimum."

Eric Thomas, vice-chancellor of Bristol University, said: "Having an RAE distorts planning, ensures a conservative and non-risk taking culture in academics (and) creates an artificial market and an unnecessary tension between teaching and research. It is expensive and wasteful."

But 55 university heads, albeit often grudgingly, favoured the 2008 exercise going ahead.

One new-university chief said: "I would stick with the RAE one more time, debate the metrics fully and openly and then take a balanced view of what to do next."

Ann Tate, vice-chancellor of Northampton University, was "alarmed" by the Treasury's announcement. "It seemed to be based on not very good evidence about the effects of the exercise and the usual bias in favour of science and engineering," she said.

One vice-chancellor said most universities chose not to change the RAE when given the chance during the last review in 2002, adding: "An enormous amount of work has gone into the 2008 RAE and to change at this stage would create havoc."

But Ian Leslie, Cambridge University's pro vice-chancellor for research, said that if a post-2008 strategy were devised quickly, "a very strong reason for still running the 2008 exercise would have to be given."

Only two vice-chancellors favoured allowing certain subjects to opt out of the RAE.

The results of the survey are expected to be confirmed by a separate poll carried out by Universities UK to be presented to its board this week.

The Treasury has said that the 2008 RAE will be scrapped only if the move is supported by a majority of UK universities responding to a consultation due to be published in May.

anthea.lipsett@thes.co.uk

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