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


Memorandum submitted by the Committee of Heads of Environmental Sciences

  At its 1996 Annual Conference, CHES unanimously (including 5* departments) passed a motion of no confidence in a joint UofA20 and 21 panel. Subsequent meetings with HEFCE resulted in no significant changes, and a similar joint UofA20 (Earth Sciences) and UofA21 (Environmental Panel). I have no doubt that at its Conference in March CHES will pass a further motion of no confidence in this arrangement because:—

    (1)  Only 2 of the 12 joint panel members were environmental scientists from Departments which submitted to UoA21. This does not constitute peer review.

    (2)  The panel descriptors do not cover the area of environmental science as taught in UK universities (see QAA benchmarking). The panel focus is demonstrably on too narrow an area of the physical (earth science) environment to the detriment of the biological environment.

    (3)  The results for UofA21 were contrary to other UofAs in not demonstrating an improving picture. In contrast UofA20 results were greatly enhanced 67 per cent of UofA20 submissions achieved 5 or 5* in contrast to only 12 per cent of UofA21. CHES can furnish statistics that this is nothing to do with variables such as old/new universities or large/small submissions but, statistically, can only result from an aberrant panel.

    (4)  Indicators other than publication output, eg grant income, appear to have had nil effect on panel outcomes. At least one UofA21 submission averaging £267,000 per capita in grants achieved only a 3b grade. This is undoubtedly to the detriment of applied research in which the environmental sciences are strong and which tends to be better funded, but produces less journal publications.

  The conclusion on this must be that either (as CHES believes) the RAE disadvantages environmental science research (and in particular applied environmental research) or that current UK environmental research has endemic and inherent problems. Either way environmental research needs attention from policy makers and CHES would be happy to furnish further details on the state of environmental research in the UK on request.

21 January 2002

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