The Higher Education Academy - May 2004
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The Higher Education Academy – May 2004 Response to the consultation on RAE2008 Panel Configuration and Recruitment Introduction 1. We welcome the opportunity to comment on panel configuration and recruitment for the RAE 2008. In particular, we welcome the recognition given to the need to find appropriate ways of assessing the pedagogy of higher education in the 2008 exercise. The nature of HE- related research 2. We propose that the definition of HE research be broadened from pedagogy to include research on teaching, learning and the student experience. This would provide a larger pool of high quality research output to assess. It would also enable increasingly significant aspects of research in higher education associated with the economic and social context of student learning to be included. 3. We consider it important to distinguish between two categories of HE research: (i) generic research on HE teaching, learning and the student experience, and (ii) discipline-specific research on HE teaching, learning and the student experience. For the purposes of this response, we term these as generic HE research and discipline-specific HE research respectively. 4. In view of the importance of grounding HE practice and policy in a sound evidence base and conceptual framework, we believe that a broad view should be adopted of the scope and nature of both generic and discipline-specific HE research. Since the target of such research is the HE sector, it is both appropriate and important for HE related research to be assessed in an effective manner. Moreover, it is important to address the development of the potential of such research in HE as research opportunities increase as a result of the increased funding of learning and teaching development activities, and interest in the policy and practice changes affecting HE and the student experience. 5. We believe that the two areas of HE research activity should be seen as distinct for the purposes of the configuration of RAE panels and assessment, for the reasons below. Panel configuration 6. Generic HE research. We understand that it has been proposed elsewhere that the area of Education might be treated as a main panel rather than as a sub-panel. We support this proposal because it would: a. Enable the creation of a sub-panel to cover distinct generic HE research. b. Ensure strong connections with research in other educational sectors, under a single Education main panel. 7. However, if Education remains as a sub-panel, we recommend that generic HE research should be treated as a separate sub-panel. This will ensure that its distinctiveness is recognised and that its range and potential volume can be appropriately managed. 8. Discipline-specific HE research. There is a strong argument for a discipline-specific component to the assessment of HE research. Discipline-specific HE research, which is often conducted by individuals also active in mainstream discipline research, is naturally focussed around issues specific to the discipline which may be best understood by those with both discipline and pedagogic expertise. The credibility, legitimacy and status of discipline-specific HE research are all likely to be enhanced when the research itself, its publication and assessment are seen to be located within the discipline. It is also important to promote and build on synergies amongst discipline-specific HE research and wider discipline research. Moreover, there is the practical matter of avoiding the problem of individuals having to submit responses to more than one panel. 9. However, we recognise the complexities of developing a mechanism for assessing discipline-specific HE research in all 66 sub-panels, and for ensuring that an appropriate level of expertise is represented in all of these sub-panels. Even were such a mechanism feasible, the problem of ensuring some kind of equality of treatment of discipline-specific HE research across all 66 panels would remain. 10. The idea of a “virtual college” of discipline-specific experts in HE research has also been raised. We do not feel that such a group would fully meet the discipline-specific concerns of discipline knowledge, credibility and legitimacy amongst the sub-panels; in addition such a group would be unwieldy were all discipline areas to be represented. 11. A mechanism to manage the important disciplinary dimension is required. Therefore, we propose a solution in which some degree of discipline specificity is retained whilst addressing the practical concerns for effective and efficient assessment. This would be to cluster disciplines into larger „faculty‟ sub panels of cognate disciplines, such as Medical and Biological Sciences (main panels A to D), or Physical Science and Engineering (main panels E to G). Perhaps four or five “faculties” would be required. We believe that these faculty sub-panels should report to each of the main panels covered by the „faculty‟ in relation to the discipline focus of the research. Submitting departments would need to identify by which sub-panel they wish each output to be assessed. 12. We recognise that this solution to the discipline-specific dimension adds complexity to the exercise and there may be operational resistance to it. Therefore, if discipline-specific HE research cannot be managed in the way proposed here we believe that a separate HE research sub-panel would be a first and important step to recognising this research. 13. In this case, submitting departments could submit discipline-specific HE research to their appropriate discipline sub-panel identifying which research outputs would need to be passed to the HE research sub-panel for assessment. This would ensure that the assessment is made by HE specialists but reported back to the appropriate discipline sub-panel, thus ensuring recognition of this research by the discipline. Panel selection 14. Whatever model is finally adopted for the assessment of generic and discipline-specific HE research, it is essential that there are mechanisms for appointing appropriate members with both discipline-specific and generic HE research expertise to the relevant panels. If the decision is to base assessment within the discipline sub-panels then it is essential that the mechanisms for member selection minimise the risk that discipline-specific HE research is sidelined by the more numerous mainstream discipline research submissions. Such mechanisms should include both specialists of discipline-specific HE research within the sub-panels and procedures which ensure that submissions relating to HE research are considered equitably alongside discipline research. 15. Currently, the draft list of nominating bodies includes Learning and Teaching Support Network and Institute of Learning and Teaching in Higher Education. These two entries should be replaced by Higher Education Academy. 16. The Higher Education Academy is in a particularly strong position to advise on panel membership relating to generic and discipline-specific HE research. This results from its access to a diversity of knowledge of discipline-specific practice through the Subject Centre networks and to its wide experience of generic HE development, research and policy through its accreditation activities, its generic work and the leadership and research expertise of its CEO, Professor Paul Ramsden. Summary There should be an Education main panel with a HE research sub-panel to assess generic HE research. The assessment of discipline-specific HE research should be undertaken by four or five „faculty‟ sub-panels that report to each of the main panels covered by the „faculty‟ in relation to the discipline focus of the HE research. If Education remains as a sub-panel, we recommend that generic HE research should be treated as a separate sub-panel. If discipline-specific HE research cannot be managed in the way we propose, a separate HE research sub-panel should assess this research and therefore include discipline-based specialists in its membership. The Higher Education Academy should be a nominating body for panel membership.