Memorandum submitted by the Engineering
EPC members served on all of the engineering
panels. The considerable feedback we have had from members on
an individual basis shows that they are unanimous in believing
that at least as far as engineering is concerned there was a significant
improvement in research output over the period. There was good
evidence that more institutions were performing at a higher level
than previously. This was primarily due to the overall improvement
in the quality of research outputs, and the international refereeing
process confirmed this. In addition many of the outputs had already
satisfied the rigorous refereeing processes which technical journals
and some conferences operate.
In general the EPC believes that the RAE has
been beneficial in improving the quality of research in British
Universities and believes that the exercise should continue, though
not necessarily in its present form. Five yearly intervals maybe
more appropriate providing continuing evidence of research quality
and a measure of UK University research output.
The EPC believes that all staff should be entered
graded from "not research active" to "fully research
active". This would give a clearer picture of overall research
activity and would help to eliminate the current guessing games
which departments and institutions engage in. Certainly some of
the improvement observed arose because some institutions with
low scores in 1996 did not submit to the various units of assessment.
In addition a number of submissions focussed on fewer staff within
the departments concerned.
If the RAE is repeated greater thought needs
to be given to the mechanism of providing feedback to departments
and also to the time between the publication of results and the
Members of EPC believe that the need to concentrate
on getting a good grade in the core discipline has discouraged
other research eg in the theory of teaching and learning because
this is inevitably seen as a distraction from a department's core
activity. Some way of rewarding other relevant research should
Improved research ratings must be rewarded in
a tangible fashion. The exponential growth in benefit from increased
grading has caused the effort put into research to be out of proportion
to its contribution to university incomes. Some change to this
system is needed. Suggested alternative ways of awarding research
are to move from an exponential scale to a linear scale or to
change the grade multiplier from 1.5 to say 1.2.
EPC members had a range of opinions on where
the money should be concentrated but there was concern about the
funding of research infrastructure and a feeling that 4, 5 and
5* departments at least should receive sufficient monies to cover
infrastructure costs. At present this does not happen.
EPC believe that the engineering research community
has responded to the stimulus of the RAE in a very positive fashion.
In many cases this has caused excessively high workloads for already
overstretched academic staff.
The possibility that departments, which have
improved their performances, finish up with no improvement in
funding or even in the extreme cases a reduced level of funding
causes us concern and will do nothing to improve the morale of
the academic engineering profession.
Recruitment of suitable people to academic careers
is a major concern for EPC and the current pressure on young academic
staff from the RAE exercise needs to be reduced. We believe it
to be one of the deterrents to pursuing an academic career. There
are dangers that the best engineers will opt for better-paid and
less pressured positions in industry and indeed there is evidence
that this is already happening.
Pressure on University departments to recruit
staff, who are credible for entry in the RAE means that those
with a doctorate and publications are favoured. This usually means
individuals who have continued after graduation to doctoral studies
and (often) then to a research contract type post. Thus many departments
are replacing the retiring Robbin's bulge with engineering staff
who have no industrial experience. This is a concern for the future
of engineering education.
Those involved as panel members felt that the
presentation quality was greatly improved partly due to clearer
guidelines. They also felt that the research quality had increased
and that their opinions on quality were borne out by the positive
comments from the international assessors. EPC members know that
in engineering the overwhelming endorsement of the gradings by
international experts has confirmed the correctness of the judgements
made and has additionally confirmed that the best UK researchers
are equivalent to the best worldwide. Indeed we know that in some
instances the final panel assessments were harsher than those
of the overseas advisers. There is no doubt as far as the EPC
is concerned that the overall improvements are real.
Our members who were involved are convinced
that the exercise would be enhanced, simplified and have greater
accuracy if all research outputs were made available to the panels.
17 January 2002