Dear Chairs of Panels and Subpanels,
I write in order to make you aware of a situation of concern directly related to the recent Research Assessment Exercise and with potential implications for the conduct of REF in 2012.
Following the announcement of RAE results, Senior Management at the University of Liverpool set in motion a number of measures intended to further the goal established by the Vice-Chancellor: to move the University to the middle of the Russell Group by the end of his tenure.
These measures include a statement from the University that it will in future only support 3* and 4* research, except in the case of early career researchers, or those who have had periods of illness, when extraordinarily, and for a limited period, 2* research may be deemed acceptable.
The University has also instituted a series of “academic reviews,” directed, in the first instance, at two groups of staff: those in Units who received a low proportion of research rated 4*, and those with a high proportion of research rated 0 or 1* in the recent exercise. Those units in the first group include: Politics and Communications Studies, Statistics and Probability, and Philosophy. Those in the second group include; Sociology, Cancer Studies, Dentistry, American Studies and Civil Engineering.
The University has already strongly indicated that it wishes to close the departments in the first group, which will result in a zero return of the staff and disciplines concerned to the relevant Units of Assessment in REF 2012. We can only assume that once the precedent is set, those listed in the second group will follow shortly thereafter. The University has also indicated that this is but the first step, and that individuals across the university will then be evaluated in order to establish the overall star rating attributable to their research.
The Liverpool Association of the University and Colleges Union believe that the actions of the University of Liverpool potentially call the RAE, and upcoming REF into disrepute. The reasons are the following:
1. The University is attempting to infer from the RAE results the “score” that can be attributed to individual members of staff. To cite one example of this, in departments where there has been a low percentage of research rated 4*, senior managers have indicated they believe there is a particular “problem” with “underperforming professors.” In such instances, the current availability of a voluntary redundancy scheme at the University has been emphasised to colleagues.
2. Members of RAE panels and sub-panels are being deliberately selected as reviewers. Officially, the remit of the reviews is still in consultation, but the University has already proceeded with a number of reviews without agreement as to their terms, remit, or the overall procedure. In preparation, the University has requested details of the research plans and proposed publications up to 2012 of each person in the Units for review. These plans will be submitted as part of the documentation reviewers will be asked to assess before making their report. It is clear that the University is seeking an indication from reviewers, given their knowledge of RAE, of the star-rating that might be expected in REF given the individual research plans submitted. The reviews, (eight in the first instance,) that have been initiated, are therefore constituted as tools of performance management rather than as developmental fora in which staff and reviewers can discuss strategic direction in a collegial environment.
3. The VC has indicated that he will make decisions regarding the future of staff and disciplines reviewed to date based on private, oral reports from individual reviewers made only to him, and following a private briefing with reviewers before the review itself. This compromises both the reviewer and the staff being reviewed. Neither will have a formal written record of what was said, nor, as a result, will there be any meaningful right of reply. Reviewers run the risk of being misquoted, misunderstood, or of inadvertently damaging the careers of staff in affected departments. Individual members of staff may be in receipt of damaging decisions taken by senior management outside agreed performance management or disciplinary procedures, in instances where there has been no misconduct and no failure to fulfil the contract of employment.
4. The University is using RAE scores to select disciplines it hopes to discontinue. If departments are closed, Units of Assessment within the University disestablished, or the research of individuals discounted or devalued, this will be to the detriment not just of the University, but to those disciplines nationally, especially if other institutions take inspiration from the University of Liverpool example. Senior managers have clearly indicated that the University is not willing to invest in those departments currently under the microscope, thereby discounting one possibly supportive suggestion that might emerge from review.
5. RAE 2008 contained clear address to equalities issues. Although the University of Liverpool produced the required Code of Practice on RAE, it has yet, despite the persistence of the campus trade unions on this issue, to provide any indication of an intent to comply with current Equalities legislation. There is therefore no mechanism in place to ensure that the legislative requirement (2004) to Equality Impact Assess any decision taken around RAE results or REF planning will be met. There will therefore be no indicator of the extent or degree of any direct or indirect discrimination occurring as a result, nor any attempt to remedy this.
On behalf of LUCU, I would therefore request that you draw the attention of the members of your panel and subpanels to the situation of others in your discipline in the University of Liverpool. We strongly believe that the Senior Management of this institution is misusing RAE results and instrumentalizing the prospect of REF in ways that undermine the integrity of both, as well as the confidence that the academic community as a whole may have in them.
We would therefore request the following:
* That reviewers request full written details of the ways in which their review will be used, and decline to be fobbed off with vague statements such as “to determine the future configuration of the university,” etc.
* That reviewers, for their own protection and the protection of colleagues being reviewed, decline the option of any private oral briefing with senior management before embarking on the review process
*That reviewers decline to speculate on the “Star rating” of individuals.
*That reviewers draw up a formal written report of their conclusions, in a manner that will facilitate the circulation of that report.
*That reviewers provide a copy of all documentation surrounding the review to the members of staff concerned.
*That reviewers request advice from their own LA or UCU branch regarding the conduct and possible effects of the reviews before and after the review process.
We greatly appreciate the time, effort and collegiality of colleagues who agree to participate in what should be a supportive, professional process, and deeply regret the unfortunate attitude of the University of Liverpool, which places both those reviewing and those being reviewed in an entirely invidious position.
LUCU is happy to discuss any of the matters mentioned here with panel chairs, panel members and reviewers.
Thank you for considering our letter.
On behalf of LUCU Committee.