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


Memorandum submitted by the Engineering Professors' Council


  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 feedback.


  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 be found.


  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

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