Memorandum submitted by the Institution
of Environmental Sciences
IES is keen to see that the highest standards
of environmental research are attained in UK universities and
that a diverse and sustainable base of research is maintained
in the UK. In our view the outcomes of the UoA 21, Environmental
Sciences Panel are anomalous and threaten to undermine the standards
and diversity of environmental research in UK universities.
Although we have not been directly invited by
you to comment we have been advised of this exercise by sister
bodies and feel sufficiently concerned by the RAE process to generate
a response at short notice. In addition to this response we also
support and endorse the consultation response from the Committee
of Heads of Environmental Sciences (CHES) with whom we work closely.
I understand you received the CHES response from Professor Eastwood,
Chair of CHES on 21/1/02. You will be aware from this response
that CHES was sufficiently concerned with the outcome of the 1996
RAE to seek a meeting with the Funding Councils to seek urgent
rectification of the structural inadequacies of the joint Earth
and Environmental Sciences Panel. IES supported CHES in its approach
and, like CHES, is dismayed that the Funding Councils were unable
or unwilling to ensure that the Panel was representative of the
environmental disciplines and would operate in such a way that
the quality of the diverse research undertaken by the UK environmental
sciences community was properly assessed. In our view the continuing
inadequacy of the Panel to address important components of the
UK research capability has the potential to do a major disservice
to the UK research effort in the environmental sciences. Furthermore
it is likely to accelerate the decline and closure of environmental
science capabilities in those universities who have done less
well in the assessment by the UoA 21 Panel.
IES concerns can be summarised as follows.
The panel descriptors do not cover
the range of research activities undertaken in UK environmental
science departments. In particular:
The operating criteria of the panel
gave insufficient attention to areas of environmental policy,
legislation and management. These are important UK environmental
research strengths which are not given due attention in the operating
criteria. No panel member is identified as covering these areas
The panel descriptors give undue
prominence and weight to physical environmental science (ie Earth
Sciences) and do so to the detriment of the biological environmental
The Panel descriptors do not appear
to give weight to policy or industrially relevant research outcomes
although the intention of the RAE was to recognise the importance
of these areas to the UK. The UK's environmental research is undoubtedly
applied and it appears that this has not been ranked highly by
the Panel. In discussions with submitting universities it appears
that the research income from industrial and policy relevant research
has been high but even where peer reviewed publications have followed
from this work it does not appear to have been rated highly by
the Panel. Furthermore, informal views from submitting institutions
seems to suggest that indicators of esteem linked to industrial
and policy activity, such as advice to Government, work with industry
or engagement in learned society activities do not appear to have
carried any particular weight in the UoA 21 Panel.
The outcome of the UoA 21 Panel deliberations
appears to be significantly different from the RAE as a whole,
from UoA20 (Earth Sciences) and the umbrella panel of sciences.
It has a strongly bimodal distribution of scores, a mean score
of 3.26 (the lowest mean in the RAE) and a mode of two (whereas
the whole RAE mean is 4.1, mode 5). There are only two 5* (both
of whom had panel members) and two 5 universities equating to
just 12 per cent of the submitted total. This is the lowest proportion
of 5* departments in all of the Panels.
The joint UoA 20 and 21 Panel contained
just two members whose institution submitted to UoA 21. This calls
into question the peer review capability of the Panel.
In summary the IES is concerned that we have
now arrived at a position where UK research in environmental science
is judged to be the worst performing area in the RAE.
Either there is an intentional or accidental
application of bias in the UoA 21 deliberations and outcomes that
have disadvantaged and undervalued the UK environmental science
research effort or there are severe and structural problems in
the nature and quality of UK environmental research. We do not
accept that the latter case is true but in either case environmental
science research demands urgent attention from policy makers and
the funding councils. In partnership with colleagues in CHES,
the Institution of Environmental Sciences would be happy to provide
further information on the nature, state and diversity of environmental
research in the UK.
Professor James Longhurst F.I.Env.Sc.
Vice-Chairman of Council
Institution of Environmental Sciences