Chemistry departments can now get involved in the next RAE

Vikki Allen/Cambridge, UK

The first chance for chemistry departments to get involved with the research assessment exercise (RAE) 2008 will take place this month. A presentation to heads of departments on 11 May will get the ball rolling for the process that will take several years.

The presentation, at the Society of Chemical Industry, London, will provide an outline of how research will be evaluated. Jeremy Sanders, head of chemistry at the University of Cambridge and chair of the RAE’s sub-panel for chemistry, will give the talk.

Full details of the assessment criteria and working practices are then expected to be published in early July. The criteria for assessment and the working methods are now being refined by the sub-panel. Sanders urges that submissions from universities include part-time, young and multidisciplinary staff.

The aim is to take into account the career stage of researchers and be as forward looking as possible. ’We want to put greater emphasis on the esteem of the individual,’ he says.

The RAE in 2008 will differ from the one undertaken in 2001. Related subject areas will be considered together. Chemistry will be looked at along with physics and, earth systems and environmental sciences. An increase in the size of the chemistry sub-panel to 15 members will help the exercise.

International members will also be appointed to the main panel. These additional members, who will be from interdisciplinary areas themselves, will help provide a seal of approval to the process and help moderate it.

The current system does have its benefits. The grants that universities receive, depending on how well they perform, can help them to diversify into new areas of research.

It also provides universities with a chance to appraise their own work and evaluate their successes.

Sanders argues the RAE is a reasonable way of assessing the quality of research in UK universities but admits there are limitations.

It is inevitable that the system primarily assesses the last few years’ worth of work, he says, but it also attempts to assess a department’s potential for work over the next few years.

Following the 2008 assessment, it is likely that questions will be asked to see if a more appropriate means of review could be used.

’There is a feeling that a less detailed assessment might come up with similar answers,’ says Sanders.