NPC/04/05/A: Joint Funding Bodies Research Assessment Exercise 2008, Panel Configuration

by Tim Brown

Preamble

The National Postgraduate Committee (NPC) is a charity with the aim to advance, in the public interest, postgraduate education in the UK. We organise meetings and conferences, publish best practice guidelines and seek to influence public policy on all aspects of postgraduate education. Our membership consists of affiliated student representative bodies from across the UK; we have one full-time officer, the General Secretary, and fourteen voluntary officers. We work closely with the National Union of Students and the lecturers unions as well as other bodies relevant to postgraduate education.

Responses to the Suggested Assessment Panels

On reviewing the main panels, we acknowledge there are some extremely specific subject areas that do not fit into any obvious panel; examples of this are Veterinary Science and Library and Information Management. There does not appear to be any suitable way to re-arrange this from our analysis of the panels. We do also acknowledge there are clearly defined panels that could be easily named such as "Engineering", "Languages" and "Cultural Studies".

It has clearly come to our attention that there are specific subjects that are broader in which subject areas they relate to. Examples of this that individuals in NPC have identified with are as follows:

  1. Psychology is placed panel D along with other clinical related subjects. Although research in psychology may relate to subjects in this panel and allow some important psychology research to take place, this still ignores social psychology and possibly some aspects of counselling and psychotherapy which may possibly not come under psychiatry in panel B. There is clearly the case to say that psychology has a place in panels B and K as well as panel D.
  2. Although science and engineering are distinctively different and likewise fit into different panels, there are aspects of state of the art research such as nanotechnology, biomedical engineering and optical communications that are part of science as much as they are part of engineering.
  3. Between N and O, there is some significant crossover although we acknowledge that there are complications in merging two panels with a wide range of subjects into one single panel.
  4. Computing has been placed in panel F with mathematics and there will indeed be many relations there. However, this subject also spans into many different areas including information technology, software engineering and computer science. There is also a case to place such a subject into panel G and possibly J for some aspects of information technology.

Given the above examples, the principle we will convey is our concern about the hierarchy of main panels and sub panels where sub panels are restricted to operate within a main panel. In some aspects of assessment of research, we have illustrated where there is a danger of inappropriate peer assessment taking place for certain aspects of the subject. At the very least we wish to ensure that strong communication is established between panels so that where research would find more appropriate peer review from another panel, there is a mechanism to ensure peer review is contributed from that panel. If this is the scenario where it is not otherwise possible to split units of assessment into separate main panels (which would be ideal in that case, although have complexity) we would suggest this is the minimum move that can be made to compensate for the inherent problem of a panel structure.