by Jeremy Hoad

RAE Consultation Exercise
Responses to issues for consultation

62. We could, in addition to publishing ratings for the RAE, publish on the Internet the parts of submissions that contain factual data and textual information about research environment and general observations (currently RA1-RA4, RA6), but not RA5 which concerns strategic research plans. Submissions would not be anonymised, so the names of selected staff and titles of their output would become public, but personal details such as dates of birth would be removed. 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 parts, as specified in the preceding paragraph? (See paragraph 25.)

We believe that the publication of such material would be valuable to the research community and those interested in higher education research. Postgraduate researchers would benefit from a further source of information on research extent and quality throughout the UK and the information could be of particular benefit to postgraduate applicants. We agree that no personal details should be published but otherwise full information should be published wherever possible. The concern about the possible compromising of the competitive positions of institutions internationally is not valid if the strategic research plans of a department as contained in RA5 are omitted. The value of open information and the dissemination of research otherwise outweighs issues of competition. We believe that the omission of non-selected members of staff from the RAE submission will not impact adversely on individuals. It is acknowledged that research selected for submission is indicative of research output and quality and not necessarily entirely comprehensive. Nevertheless the inclusion of staff and publication details will inevitably be taken as an indicator of the levels of research activity in a department and this will be valuable to those consulting the information and avoid a distorted picture of research activity being presented as might be the case with the limited data now published.

63. Apart from the UOAs identified in paragraph 27, and unless there are compelling reasons to make other changes, we propose to retain for the next RAE the 69 units of assessment listed in Annex B, and the definition of each one provided in the list of sub-areas of activity. We seek comments on this proposal, and particularly on whether any definitions of UOAs need revision. (See paragraphs 26-28.)

The 69 UOAs listed are comprehensive enough to cover all research undertaken in UK HEIs. The importance of establishing UOAs now for the 2001 assessment exercise is accepted with the commitment to a wide-ranging consultation to take account of the changing nature of research delineation. This is particularly important in emerging fields. In order to maintain comparability and stability of the assessment procedures the suggestion to restructure the present UOAs and establish sub-panels is supported.

64. We invite comments on how sub-panels could be configured within UOAs 1-3. (See paragraph 29.)

65. We invite comments on how the range of sub-themes identified for UOAs 43 and 64 (see Annex B) could be divided between sub-panels to maintain academic coherence and facilitate a manageable distribution of work within panels. (See paragraph 29.)

66. We seek comments on recommendations that the Education UOA should be subdivided, with either: a separate UOA for research in compulsory education and one for post-compulsory education; or a separate UOA for research into education policy, and one for education practice including pedagogic research. (See paragraph 29.)

We acknowledge the difficulty in assessing the elements of Education within one UOA both in terms of size and diversity. Of the two suggestions made we would support the latter, namely that "a separate UOA for research into education policy, and one for education practice including pedagogic research" is established. There are strong cases for both suggestions but we feel the division of Education into policy and practice makes more sense because these new UOAs would be applicable to both compulsory and post-compulsory education. If the former division is adopted it is likely that a duplication of effort would be needed to address issues of policy and practice in both compulsory and post-compulsory education. Additionally, the former division would create more cohesive UOAs and hopefully encourage the sharing of good practice between education stages rather than unnaturally separating them into distinct entities. This is ever more important as the numbers going on to post-compulsory education increase and there is a greater acceptance and adoption of policies to support lifelong learning. Higher education should also benefit from shared good practice between educational stages in the area of teaching practice which has for too long been neglected as a priority, particularly concerning research student supervision and training. The expansion of higher education demands greater attention be paid to teaching practice. Similarly identifying a UOA which includes policy for all levels of education could identify areas of mutual benefit and act as a focus to encourage the view of education as a continuous process.

67. 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. (See paragraph 32.)

The suggestions to consider interdisciplinary research identified in paragraph 31 a, b and c are very welcome and we look forward to the opportunity to comment on the results of the study on interdisciplinary research currently being undertaken jointly by the funding bodies.

With regard to the means by which the RAE could facilitate the submission of collaborative research without prejudicially promoting such work over other research we would make the following suggestion. Paragraph 31 (c) states that the RAE "[Ensures] that panels are broadly based, include people who themselves research in interdisciplinary fields or teams, and articulate explicit criteria and working methods for the treatment of interdisciplinary research.". We suggest that the panel members who satisfy such criteria are linked into a network between UOAs so that there can be better consultation and consideration of interdisciplinary research. Although we accept that there was no consensus (paragraph 30) the particular nature of interdisciplinary research should be addressed and this would facilitate assessment of interdisciplinary research within the current RAE framework and UOAs while also extending the opportunity for contact between panels.

68. We are still considering the question of requiring a minimum proportion of staff to be returned for the achievement of the highest ratings. 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. We also seek further views if such a measure can be determined about whether a minimum percentage, up to 100 per cent, should be submitted in order to achieve the highest ratings. (See paragraph 56.)

We welcome and agree with the rejection of a rating scale which requires a minimum size (paragraph 56).

In order to determine what percentage of staff have been submitted we appreciate that HEIs organise their research in many different ways and this is not always comparable. However, we feel that the best way to determine what percentage of staff have been submitted is first to require HEIs and departments to themselves identify what proportion of their staff are active researchers. Of this number at least seventy five per cent (75%) should be submitted for the RAE. It is further proposed that in order to be considered for or achieve the highest ratings a minimum of 90% of staff must be submitted for the RAE. Although these figures might seem high HEIs have a considerable period of time to prepare for the RAE and produce submissions. Therefore any logistical difficulties in producing submissions should be surmountable. We believe that the ratings achieved would command considerably more respect and be far more representative of the research environment and culture within a department and institution if these minimum levels are adopted. If there is a single researcher or very small number who might boost a RAE rating this must be fairly judged against the size and diversity of the department overall concerning staff and research quality. It is our understanding that the RAE does not seek to provide ratings for a small number of researchers but a rating for a whole department or UOA for a HEI. Consequently there seems to be little basis for consideration of active researchers below the levels suggested.