Research Assessment Exercise 2001: key decisions and issues for further consultation

Research Assessment Exercise 2001: key decisions and issues for further consultation

Research Assessment Exercise 2001: key decisions and issues for further consultation

The Royal Society of Edinburgh is pleased to respond to the Funding Council’s paper RAE 1/98 on the key decisions and issues for further consultation for Research Assessment Exercise 2001. The RSE is Scotland’s premier learned society, comprising Fellows elected on the basis of their distinction, from the full range of academic disciplines, and from industry, commerce and the professions. This response has been compiled with the assistance of a number of Fellows representing a range of disciplines and academic institutions.

The specific issues identified in the consultation document are addressed below:

We invite HEIs to say whether or not they agree that we should publish all submissions on the Internet. If so, should we publish whole submissions, or part, as specified [in paragraph 25]?

We are in general in favour of ‘openness and increased transparency’ but we are concerned that the proposal will overwhelm the Internet with material, much of which is only of parochial interest to the Institution concerned. If the HEIs are in general in favour of all data other than RA5 being placed on the internet we would not oppose it, merely question whether the benefit of any extra work involved is truly favourable. However, we would suggest that both RA5 and RA6 data should be occluded, and the remaining data would have to be carefully screened so as to omit all information of a personal (dates of birth) or confidential nature (details of sensitive external contract funding). This will entail some additional resource, and resources tied up in the RAE are generally thought to be excessive.

We seek comments on this proposal [to retain the 69 UoAs listed in Annex B, apart from those identified in paragraph 27], and particularly on whether any definitions of UoAs need revision.

The 1996 arrangement of the 69 UoAs was largely appropriate. Scottish Studies is currently excluded but could be included in an area studies UoA, such as European Studies.

We will retain the provisions of the 1996 RAE for assessing collaborative research but need to consider further how we could facilitate the submission of collaborative research. We welcome comments about this.

If regional networks of research collaboration evolve, with research-intensive institutions at the hub facilitating shared research facilities, more account should be taken of these collaborative research achievements in RAE assessments. The published guidelines could invite HEIs to expand on their initiation of, and collaboration with, named collaborative networks, and indicate research areas, or research papers, which have benefited as a result of such co-operation. Submission guidance could highlight this approach. Post Dearing attempts to enhance inter-institutional collaboration will inevitably be better motivated, however, through the funding reward system.

We seek suggestions for a robust approach to determining what percentage of staff have been submitted, in view of the diverse nature of HEI structures for organising research.

Submission guidance should explicitly ask different departments returning under a single UoA umbrella to be identified, distinguishing where there has been a substantial ‘migration’ from a variety ofdisciplines.

The proportion of those departments’ staff submitted within the UoA should be given, together with the proportion submitted in "other UoAs", the proportion belonging to but not submitted to that UoA, and the proportion belonging to but not submitted to "other UoAs". Where only one department has been submitted, the proportion of staff would be as given. Where two or more are submitted, the proportion of staff would be determined by the sum of the percentage of staff belonging to but not submitted to that UoA (as opposed to not submitted to other UoAs), weighted by the number of staff per department. For example:

Unit of Assessment (X)

  No. of academic staff in dept. Proportion submitted to this UoA Proportion submitted to other UoAs Proportion belonging to but not submitted to this UoA Proportion belonging to but not submitted to other UoAs
Dept. 1 100 98 0 2 0
Dept. 2 10 40 10 30 20
Total 110            

The proportion belonging to but not submitted to this UoA would therefore be:

Dept. 1 2 (percentage) * 100/110 (weighting by no. of staff) = 1.82

Dept. 2 30 (percentage) * 10/110 (weighting by no. of staff) = 2.73

Total = 4.5

The percentage of staff submitted would therefore equal 100% - 4.55% = 95.45%

However, it is clear as a result of the perceived interpretation of RAE 96 that increased weight is being given to the attainment of the 5* rating. Universities are spoken of as being ‘3 x 5* universities’ etc. It is clearly easier to obtain a 5* rating (in most UoAs) by cutting down the numbers in each department as much as possible – even claiming that some specialisms are researched by a single staff member. We find it difficult to suggest how such system manipulation can be avoided, but each panel could be required to suggest a "normal critical mass" of staff for each specific area, and calculate the percentage of research active staff accordingly. This will require the panels to be allowed to challenge the alleged departmental size where it would appear that a high rating, such as 5*, has probably be obtained by the device of redefining departmental boundaries beyond normal and acceptable working limits.

We also seek views - if such a measure can be determined – about whether a minimum percentage, up to 100 percent, should be submitted in order to achieve the highest ratings.

While a minimum number of staff should not be required for the attainment of the highest grade, the proportion of staff needed to achieve the highest ratings should be not less than 90%.

Further information is available from the Research Officer, Dr Marc Rands


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