Column: Undercover academic
Assessing the RAE
The end of 2008 brought the report card of the UK's academic research effort. Under the infamous Research Assessment Exercise, subject areas put on their Sunday best and submitted themselves to be assessed and graded. What does the RAE mean to me, a lecturer hired after submissions were made? I'm not too sure, and I don't think anyone else is either. How the RAE outcomes translate into research funding is critical. Rank is propaganda, funding is the road to results. The benefits of increasing funding are clear to an institution as a whole, but on an individual level, who knows?
People put a great deal of faith in metrics designed to point out who has done better than the rest. Past tense. There seem to be few avenues for assessing potential or measures for assisting improvement. A-level results aren't always the best indicator of how well a student does at university and likewise it is questionable whether past research performance is a good indicator of future research potential. Is there a clear correlation between funding levels and success? Research metrics make me nervous, and so they should. Assessments have always rewarded those best able to sit the exam, and that is not necessarily the same as being the best.
The Undercover academic is a university lecturer in the UK