Select Committee on Science and Technology Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Institute of Materials

  These comments by the Institute of Materials (IoM) will focus mainly on the RAE results for Materials Departments in the UK, covered by the RAE Unit of Assessment 32: Metallurgy and Materials.

  There were 30 Materials submissions from different university departments. Of these, five departments were rated 5*, and four departments were rated 5. Thus nine out of 30 departments, ie 30 per cent, were rated as having a significant amount of international excellence. The IoM believes this assessment is about right. The IoM finds it hard to believe that many other subjects were assessed to have over 50 per cent of submissions which were internationally excellent. It believes that this would not be the view from the USA, for example.

  There are several important factors which need to be taken into account when assessing the RAE results. One is that the number of submissions to the Metallurgy and Materials Unit of Assessment in 2001 was about 25 per cent lower than the number of submissions at the previous RAE in 1996. This is mainly due to Materials Departments that have closed in the last five years due to the lack of students, and lack of funding. Some of these departments were good (for example Bath, Brunel, Surrey). This is a very worrying trend since there is a high demand from industry for materials graduates and PhDs.

  Another factor is that in the 2001 exercise, departments were much more selective about the staff they submitted than in 1996. For example, in 2001, the Sheffield Hallam materials submission was rated 5, but only about 40 per cent of their staff were submitted. If 100 per cent of their staff had been submitted then they would not have achieved a grade 5. Hence the Sheffield Hallam department viewed as a whole would not be said to be of international standard, although some of its staff are, which is why a 5 was awarded on the staff names submitted. This is just an illustrative example and is not meant to single out Sheffield Hallam; it is common practice amongst departments in all disciplines.

  The IoM believes strongly that certain subjects in our universities which are of key importance to the UK economy are at risk of disappearing because of the intense financial pressure on our universities. Materials is one of these subjects, and it is demonstrably at risk because there were 25 per cent fewer submissions to the 2001 RAE than five years ago. It is essential that the research funding for Materials, and other key subjects at risk, is not only maintained but significantly increased. There is a danger that money will be diverted to subjects like Anthropology, which awarded 70 per cent of submissions grades 5 and 5*, and away from subjects of key national importance like Materials, whose Assessment Panel arguably acted more responsibly in awarding only 30 per cent of submissions grades 5 and 5*.

  The IoM submits that the HEFCE should first assign a pot of research money to each subject according to national need. It should then selectively distribute that money according to the RAE ratings for that subject. If the pot of money for Materials Departments is not substantially increased, Departments will continue to close and the UK will fail even more to produce the Materials graduates and PhD students required by industry.

16 January 2002

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