Preliminary response to HEFCE Consultation Paper: RAE 02/2004 – panel configuration and recruitment

May 2004

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This Association represents teachers, researchers, and students
in its fields within UK Higher Education. Its predecessor
body was instrumental in arguing for the formation of a panel
within the Research Assessment Exercise that could properly
recognise and assess research in our fields. This panel (65)
was created for the first time in the 1996 Exercise.

Our comments on the present Consultation Paper are as follows:

  1. Prior to 1996 the field had been inadequately assessed
    as a division of work within a broader category
    of research including librarianship, information science
    and other, rather disparate, research areas. Its
    growth and distinctiveness, despite an inherent multi-disciplinary
    approach to research, led to the decision, for
    both 1996 and 2001, to create a separate panel composed
    in ways that reflected and arose from the growth and
    significance of the field, and its straddling of both
    vocational and academic, social science and humanities
    elements.

  2. The proposed structure retains this panel as a distinctive ‘sub-panel’ (UoA
    40). We are, however, concerned by its location within
    a grouping (panel J) which also includes Library and Information
    Management, English Language and Literature, and Linguistics. This
    seems to return to earlier misunderstandings about the
    character of the field, broad and cross-disciplinary though
    it is. These are odd bed-fellows with few common
    characteristics as research fields.

  3. Among our main concerns are the following:

    1. The association with library and information management
      returns to a pre-1996 misunderstanding of
      communication and media studies. The fields
      are wholly unlike in character and intellectual
      foundations.

    2. The group places the many social and human science
      researchers in our fields at the margins and
      away from the centre of gravity of this grouping.

    3. The grouping would seem naturally to have a dominant
      member in English language and literature. If
      this field were to provide the parent panel
      chair and its leading intellectual direction,
      many groups or departments in the field would
      consider themselves inappropriately judged
      and might have some difficulty returning
      all their researchers to this single UoA.

  4. Our members have indicated to us an additional concern,
    registered in our earlier response to the Joint Funding
    Bodies’ Consultation on the RAE (November 2002),
    about the assessment of practice work. This is an
    issue which afforded much discussion in 2001 for panels
    concerned with a range of performance, art, design, and
    practice subjects. In that respect it is an issue
    which some of our members will be addressing in common
    with researchers in fields such as those found in panel
    O (including art and design and performing arts). The question
    of the precise meaning of research as “original investigation
    leading to new knowledge or understanding”, and its
    relation to creative or production work, some of which
    is and some of which is not research, will need to be discussed
    in relation to draft published assessment criteria. However,
    in relation to the current proposals, we note that much
    production work within our field is collaborative rather
    than the work of a single creative voice as is more common
    in either English or art. There are very distinct positions
    taken as to the research basis for analysis of forms of
    cultural production and expression, and these might well
    not be the same across practice work and more social science
    or analytical disciplines. But all would feel
    at some distance from the criteria and conventions
    of key subjects within panel J.

  5. For these reasons we are disappointed at the proposal
    (para 11) not to allow UoAs to have sub-panels as they
    did in 2001. This enabled panels, as they were then
    termed, to deal with specialised areas, for example practice
    work construed as research, in response to the criteria
    published by panel 65, or film and television work in relation
    to the 2008 proposed UoA 65. It also enables
    submitting departments to judge where most appropriately
    to target their submission, and avoids the need they
    may feel to split submissions from what are institutionally
    single research units.

  6. The danger of the current proposal is of a very substantial
    amount of cross-referral of work from UoA 40 to UoAs
    located in entirely different panels (notably I, K,
    and O). This
    will both complicate the work of the assessors and introduce
    a risk of variable assessment criteria, and thus excessive
    attention to ‘tactics’, or simply uncertainty
    among submitting institutions.

  7. It is plain that any field has its distinctive approaches
    and intellectual culture, and we recognise that ours
    is not alone in itself being variegated, and indeed
    beset with continuing debate as to the criteria of intellectual
    and empirical excellence – that is what gives it
    much of its vitality. However we do feel the suggested
    groupings of UoA’s could seriously disadvantage
    or deeply concern many working in our fields.

  8. We recognise that any grouping will be to some extent
    a matter of convenience and very rough and loose association. For
    that reason, rather than suggest a particular alternative
    grouping (though one or two might suggest themselves from
    the above comments), we would rather seek assurance about
    the autonomy of UoA’s and the need to limit the
    role of the proposed main panels, especially to dilute
    any potential imposition of an inappropriate frame
    of assessment on fields which are significantly distinct.

  9. We have a further reservation about the role of Additional
    Members to main panels. Experience in 2001
    suggests that non-academic members frequently played
    a very limited role in the work of panels, because
    of alternative demands on their time and for other
    reasons. The suggestion (para 25) that such members
    might, even though in exceptional cases, be acceptable
    as members on the basis of limited commitment and
    a limited number of meetings, seems wholly unacceptable
    given the importance of panel discussion and of
    the outcomes of the assessment for the research
    community. It would seem additionally odd that
    such members would be at the behest of the main
    panel chairs not at the suggestion of the UoA chairs.

We would welcome any opportunity to discuss these matters
further with the Councils if it could be helpful.

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