Memorandum submitted by The Geological
THE RAE BEAR
UK EARTH SCIENCE
1.1 In general, 55 per cent of the academics,
whose names were submitted, were found to be working in departments
rated 5 or 5*. Out of 25 university Earth Science departments
entered in the Research Assessment Exercise, 10 are now rated
at 5 and three rated at 5*, the highest possible accolade (compared
with eight rated at 5 or 5* in 1996).
1.2 The RAE has succeeded, by pruning away
under-performers and concentrating funds in certain centres, in
improving the average quality of university Earth science research
in the UK. It is important too, to recognise that departments
with relatively weak research may still deliver high quality teaching
and their importance in training Earth scientists of the future
should not be ignored.
1.3 The RAE has achieved its objective of
increasing competition between departments bidding for research
facilities, and its effect has been to concentrate research activity
in those universities where it was often historically strong.
It has had positive effects on UK science, and the exercise should
continue, with intervals between assessments dependent upon RAE
1.4 Intervals between assessments should
be longer for departments at higher grades, to reduce the resources
diverted from productive research to the RAE, and shorter for
those on lower grades, to provide an incentive for improvement,
and an opportunity to increase funding.
1.5 To help those lower on the scale to
achieve an improved rating, an opportunity to apply for reassessment
(at no less than three-year intervals) should be available.
THE HEFCE FUNDING
2.1 If, as has been rumoured, the HEFCE
plan to fund only 5*s at the old levels and to reduce funding
for five's and below, this will adversely affect research and
teaching in all departments. Additional funds, rather than cuts,
are needed to maintain the excellent levels of research in 5*,
5 and 4 departments, and to encourage improvement in others.
2.2 A matter of concern to the Society is
the pressure on the funds of departments currently rated 3a or
lower. These grades indicate that overall those departments are
not producing research of international quality, but may contain
groups that are carrying out work with important local or national
consequences. Ways should be found of recognising such sub-departmental
groups and encouraging them too to thrive.
2.3 The number of staff working in 5 and
5* rated departments compared with the number of NERC grants and
studentships awarded (comparatively few), makes it hard to see
how this standard can be maintained, let alone improved, without
2.4 In view of the growing importance of
Earth science in the national economy, this is a matter of serious
concern. Initiatives (such as JIF, JREI and SRIF) have been of
great help in restoring competitive infrastructure, but the effect
of these initiatives is still inadequate to redress the historical
weakness of funding for research.
2.5 The exercise has established the high
international standing of UK Earth science and it is essential
that additional funds be sought from Government, to ensure that
outstanding scientists, in whatever grade of department, are still
able to make their contribution to the discipline and to national
25 January 2002