LA/7669   October 2005


Egmont House, 25-31 Tavistock Place, London, WC1H 9UT                                            020-7670 9700

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TO:                            Local association secretaries

TOPIC:                      RAE 2008: Guidance to local associations

ACTION:                   Ensure members are informed about new RAE guidelines on submissions and to seek feedback on developments at departmental/faculty level; contact management about the institution’s code of practice and inform AUT office about any local difficulties          

SUMMARY:              AUT guidance on the new 2008 RAE guidelines                                                     

HQ CONTACT:        Rob Copeland, Policy officer



Dear colleague


At AUT Council in April the union reiterated its policy of opposition to the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE). The RAE has had a disastrous impact on the UK higher education system, leading to the closure of departments with strong research profiles and healthy student recruitment. It has been responsible for job losses, discriminatory practices, widespread demoralisation of staff, the narrowing of research opportunities through the over-concentration of funding and the undermining of the relationship between teaching and research.


The AUT will therefore continue to campaign against the RAE and to take all necessary measures to protect members from its effects, particularly in the run up to the 2008 RAE. [1] This circular outlines the key features of the new RAE guidelines and suggests ways in which LAs may be able to advise and protect members. It includes a briefing on the new RAE guidelines, particularly the code of practice on submissions; key negotiating points in relation to RAE exclusions and contractual changes; and a list of LA action points, a model PVC letter and a checklist of key questions for individual members.


Among other things, the circular seeks to ensure that where there are useful safeguards in the funding councils’ guidance to institutions they are made known to staff and that institutions commit themselves to adhering to them as a minimum response. It is also important that mistreatment of individuals is dealt with through the institutional grievance procedures and that any potential discrimination cases, as well as other local difficulties resulting from the RAE, are reported to the AUT nationally. 


An abridged version of this circular – targeted specifically at women members – is being prepared by the AUT Women’s Committee.  


Yours sincerely



Sally Hunt

General Secretary



1.1.      Introduction


Preparations for RAE 2008 are now well advanced. The RAE team has now sent out Guidance to panels and Guidance on submissions to institutions and the main panels and sub–panels have just completed the first stage of the consultation process on their draft criteria and working methods. Panels will meet to finalise their criteria and working methods, taking into account comments received through this consultation process, in autumn 2005.  The RAE team will publish an analysis of the consultation responses and the panels’ final statements of their criteria and working methods by January 2006. Full details of the various RAE documents are available at,


1.2       Quality profiles


1.2.1    The ‘rating’ used in previous exercises will be replaced by ‘quality profile’ attributed to each Unit of Assessment, (usually a Department or School.) Quality profiles are based on four defined ’starred’ quality levels.



Table 1 Definitions of quality levels


Four star

Quality that is world-leading in terms of originality, significance and rigour.


Three star

Quality that is internationally excellent in terms of originality, significance and rigour but which nonetheless falls short of the highest standards of excellence.


Two star

Quality that is recognised internationally in terms of originality, significance and rigour.


One star

Quality that is recognised nationally in terms of originality, significance and rigour.



Quality that falls below the standard of nationally recognised work. Or work which does not meet the published definition of research for the purposes of this assessment.



The ‘quality profile’ is intended to reflect the ‘proportion of overall research activity described in the submission’ and includes: research outputs, research environment and esteem indicators. The RAE will assess research activity rather than individuals, i.e. the overall profile will be compiled from ratings from outputs, environment and esteem not individuals.


1.2.2    The AUT welcomed the introduction of the ‘quality profiles’ when they were first announced by the funding councils in 2004. It was felt that the profiles would help to reduce the ‘cliff edge’ effects of the old grade system. Moreover, the union was pleased to note that the new rules sought to ‘…put an end to the situation, produced by the previous rating scale, where an HEI might consider leaving one or more established researchers out of a submission to ensure that it achieved a higher grade and possibly received more funding’, (HEFCE, 2004, paragraph 49). Unfortunately, the funding councils’ advice is being ignored by HE institutions and AUT are continuing to see evidence of ‘games playing’ in relation to RAE submissions. Such problems have included threats to members’ contractual status, downgrading their opportunities for career development and, worst of all, redundancies. We believe that funding councils should be much more active in explaining to institutions that the rules for the 2008 are fundamentally different from the ones in operation in 2001. However, in order to put pressure on the funding bodies it is important that we receive feedback from LAs on the situation at individual institutions.


1.3.      Panel criteria and working methods


1.3.1    In terms of the draft criteria and working methods, sub–panels differ in the weight given to the research outputs, research environment and esteem indicators. There are also differences in the number of research outputs required: some pieces of work count for more than one output and with some sub–panels there is no automatic penalty for submitting fewer than four pieces of work. Special provision has been made for ‘new researchers’ specifically those who have entered the profession since the last RAE, and for those who may have taken a break from research due to maternity leave or other circumstances (see details below). 


1.3.2    Individual panels have also stressed the value of pedagogy, applied research, and interdisciplinary research. Although we have received reports of some departments encouraging academics to publish in particular journals, the RAE stipulates that the place of publication is less important than the work itself, with each piece submitted read and judged independently on its merits. Additionally, if, during the last exercise individuals found that their research was not of standard form (Patents, Briefing Documents, Reports, Radio and Television programmes for example), this time they will find that there is a wider variety of modes of research output that can count.


1.3.3    AUT welcomes the adoption of a broad and inclusive definition of research. However, it is important that a more flexible approach to publications is translated into practice (for example, in the last exercise we received complaints from members that some of their work was unfairly excluded from the RAE). Any difficulties – such as in relation the treatment of pedagogical research or negative attitudes to emerging areas of research in particular subjects – should be reported to the national union as soon as possible. Similarly, we are concerned at reports of excessive micro-management of individual research plans in the run to the 2008 exercise, for example, monthly monitoring of individual academics. AUT believes that this type of pressure is inappropriate and recommends that such examples of bad practice be reported to the national office.


1.3.4    Another key area for the AUT is the impact of the 2008 RAE on equalities. Main panels and sub-panels have produced guidance on how they will deal with personal circumstances that might have an effect on an individual’s contribution to a submission. The full list of circumstances includes:


·         absence due to maternity/adoption leave

·         women returning to part-time work after maternity leave in the period 1 January 2001 to 31 October 2007

·         adoptive parents returning to part-time work after adoptive leave in the period 1 January 2001 to 31 October 2007

·         part-time work

·         disability, including temporary incapacity that lasts for at least 12 months. Institutions are advised that the Disability Discrimination Act 2005 will cover people with cancer, Multiple Sclerosis and HIV from the point of diagnosis from October 2006

·         young staff who entered the profession during the period 1 January 2001 to 31 October 2007

·         mature staff who were new entrants to the profession during the period 1 January 2001 to 31 October 2007

·         absence due to ill-health or injury.


1.3.5    These are important potential safeguards for members, though there are variations between sub–panels as to how maternity leave, or other extended periods of absence, will be treated. For example, some panels suggest a mechanistic reduction of expected outputs, others would like to see ‘individual circumstances’ included under form RA5b. Despite these variations, it is important to make sure that staff in charge of departmental submissions are fully aware of the new guidelines and are confident that they will be implemented by the RAE panels[2] Where there are instances of the above staff being unfairly excluded from the RAE (for example, for not publishing four items of research) then individuals affected should be encouraged to use institutional complaints and grievance procedures to challenge such decisions. LAs should also make sure that any potential discrimination cases are reported to the AUT nationally.  


1.4.      Code of practice


1.4.1    The AUT, particularly the women’s committee, has played a key role in highlighting problems of discrimination with previous RAEs. For example, the union has produced strong evidence that disproportionate numbers of women have been designated as non research-active. For example, among teaching and research academics, males were 1.6 times more likely than their female colleagues to be counted as ‘research active’ in the 2001 RAE. Evidence of women’s under-representation could be found across all grades, job types, subject areas, age groups and institutions.[3]


1.4.2    Partly as a result of AUT pressure, each institution in the next RAE will be required to draw up a code of practice on how their submission process complies with equality legislation. Guidance on how to devise a code of practice has been drawn up by the Equality Challenge Unit (ECU), with some input from the AUT.[4] The ECU not only recommends equalities training for those heading the submission process but also states that equality proofing needs to be drilled in deeper at the departmental and Faculty level. The ECU guidance calls for complete transparency in the constitution, membership and decision–making of committees as well as the establishment of appropriate appeals mechanisms.


1.4.3    The guidance also recommends that the codes of practice include information on the treatment of ‘individual circumstances that might have had an effect on an individual’s contribution to a submission’. This information should follow the standard list of circumstances taken into account by the panels (see section 1.3.4 for details). A key part of the code of practice will be to make sure that the treatment of ‘individual circumstances’ is standardised across all departments.  In addition, the code of practice should include a statement about how the institution supports its fixed-term and part-time staff, including contract research staff.


1.4.4    The code of practice and the associated guidance are clearly useful tools for LAs to increase the fairness and transparency of their institution’s submission process. Unfortunately, institutions will not be routinely required to submit their code to the funding councils for verification and so the monitoring role will need to taken up by AUT. We therefore encourage LAs to ask for details of the progress being made on the code of practice and to look to shape and influence its content. In order to help facilitate this process, a draft letter to the pro-vice chancellor for research (or equivalent) is included in the mailing (appendix a). The AUT also recommends that the final version of the institution’s code of practice be made available to all members of staff. If there are problems with either the process or substance of your institution’s code, then please report these to the national office so that we can take them up with the funding councils.


1.5       Exclusion from the RAE


1.5.1    During the last RAE the AUT recommended that LAs negotiate an agreement from their institution to ensure that exclusion from the RAE would not have a detrimental impact on an individual’s career. For example, in the run up to the 2001 RAE, Aberdeen LA was able to secure this commitment from the Senior Vice-Principal:

’Staff whose work is excluded from RAE 2001 are free to apply for research leave and funding support both from sources outwith the University and from University funds; and such applications will be judged on their merits, the applicant's cv, etc. Exclusion from RAE 2001 will not, in itself, affect either time designated for research when it comes to the allocation of departmental duties, or promotion prospects.’

1.5.2    Initially, there was some hope that the new ‘quality profiles’ would lead HEIs to adopt a more inclusive approach in the next RAE. In fact, this remains the view of the funding councils who point out that under the new rules there is no longer a financial disincentive to leave out potentially ‘weaker’ researchers. Unfortunately, there is widespread scepticism among institutions about the new methodology. HEIs are sceptical that starred levels rated 1 or 2 on the new scale will attract any funding and because there is no plan to publish submission rates, excluding staff will maximise the reported average grade (e.g. institutions are anticipating the construction of league tables). Institutions are therefore adopting a highly selective approach to RAE submissions and consequently LAs are encouraged to negotiate protections for academic staff who are excluded from the 2008 RAE along the lines of previous agreements.  


Impact of the RAE on Framework Agreement negotiations


1.6.      Contractual changes


1.6.1.   AUT notes with particular concern the increased pressure on some academic staff deemed to be ‘non research active’ to move to academic-related contracts (in some cases with a ‘teaching-only contract’) in advance of the 2008 RAE. In the previous RAEs this problem arose from the perceived need on the part of HEIs to decrease the total number of academic staff so that the proportion of staff submitted as research active was increased. Under the 2008 rules the funding councils have made it clear that the proportion of ‘non research active’ to ‘research active’ staff selected will not form part of the assessment process. As a result there is no RAE-related reason for an institution to pressure individuals to move to a teaching-only contract. AUT believes that such pressure is inappropriate and therefore should be challenged.


1.6.2 Nevertheless, in HEIs where it is not possible to prevent employers from seeking to change an individual’s contract of employment, LAs should try to ensure that any RAE-led restructuring is compatible with the relevant aspects of the Framework Agreement. The national role profiles for the teaching and scholarship academic role profile are the obvious starting point for any discussions with management Such role profiles allow for staff to be placed firmly on the academic career pathway rather than being siphoned off into ‘other-related’ grades. At the same time, it is imperative that LAs negotiate simple and transparent mechanisms of transfer between job families before benchmarking takes place. In institutions where this has already happened, LAs need to go back and ensure that the mechanisms have been or will be negotiated. LAs also should be aware of the importance of negotiating protected time for scholarship in the teaching and scholarship job family otherwise it will be very difficult for an individual to move to the teaching and research job family.[5]


1.7       Contribution-related awards


1.7.1    During negotiations on the Framework Agreement various HEIs have attempted to introduce a Contributions Agenda or Reward Framework looking to ‘manage resources’ and ‘reward performance’ through target setting. In the current climate, for those who will be submitted to the RAE it is likely that targets will be linked to research outputs and for other academic staff to additional teaching. LAs must remain vigilant both about managements’ preoccupation with targets, goals and outcomes and the link between targets and pay.[6]




1.8       LA action points


In relation to their own institution, LAs are encouraged:


·         to remind management about the funding council’s advice on the impact of the RAE ‘quality profiles’ on the inclusion and exclusion of staff (1.2.2);


·         to make sure that members are aware of the new panel and sub-panel guidelines on dealing with ‘individual circumstances’ such as maternity leave (1.3.4) and the ECU guidance on drawing up a code of practice on preparing RAE submissions (1.4.2);  


·         to disseminate the checklist of key questions (appendix b) to individual AUT members;


·         where staff are unfairly excluded from RAE submissions to use institutional grievance procedures to challenge the decision (1.3.5);


·         to contact management about the institution’s code of practice and seek input into the drafting process (1.4.4);


·         to make sure that the final version of the institution’s code of practice is available to all members of staff, for example, on the intranet (1.4.4);  


·         to negotiate (or renegotiate) agreements on the protection of academic staff excluded from the RAE (1.5.1-1.5.2);


·         to use the national academic role profiles when dealing with any RAE-induced contractual changes (1.6.1). 



In relation to the national AUT, LAs are encouraged:


  • to contact the union with examples of good and bad practice in relation to institutional and departmental RAE submissions;


  • to contact regional and national AUT office about potential discrimination cases.   


Appendix A: Model LA letter to PVC for research regarding Code of Practice



Dear [pro-vice chancellor for research],


The [local AUT] writes with regard to the RAE requirement that each submitting institution establishes a Code of Practice that attends to all relevant equal opportunities legislation to date.


We would be grateful if you could provide us with details of the progress being made on the University of….Code of Practice.  Given the ongoing use of shadow panels and RAE preparation meetings at…., we would particularly welcome information about the institutional adoption of the recommendations of the Equalities Challenge Unit with regard to ensuring rigorous equality-proofing at departmental and Faculty level. 


We would also be grateful if you could suggest dates for a meeting to discuss with the (local AUT) the new RAE documentation and the University’s response to it. 




Yours sincerely,





Appendix B: Checklist of key questions for individual members


LAs are encouraged to distribute the following RAE submissions checklist to individual members and if possible seek feedback.  


1. Have the procedures for selection of submissions within your department and institution been made clear to you in writing?



2.  Have those procedures been “equality proofed” as required by the funding councils (see Annex G of the guidance on submissions )?



3.  Have you received a copy of the internal code of practice on equalities required by the funding councils?



4.  Have the senior managers with responsibility for coordinating RAE submissions had training in the equality opportunities aspects of the process?



5.  Is the decision-making process on the selection of submissions sufficiently transparent?  That is, do you know who is making the decisions, what criteria, methodology and timescale they are applying and how they are ensuring fairness and consistency?



6.  Are there mechanisms in place within the institution to monitor the fairness of the procedures and their impact on staff?



7.  If the volume of your research output has been limited by the circumstances described in the equal opportunities guidelines (annex G, see 2 above), have you made that known and has it been taken properly into account?



8.  Are staff being encouraged to submit the full range of research outputs including applied and interdisciplinary research and scholarship as defined in annex B of the guidance (see 2 above)?



9.  If your work is excluded from the RAE, do you have grounds for believing that you may have been the subject of discrimination on grounds, for example, of gender or race?  Your institution should have circulated details of how to complain as part of its internal code of practice (see 3 above).  Contact your local association for advice and support before pursuing a complaint or appeal.



10.  Have you been submitted to any pressure or threats to your professional status or career progression or conditions of service as a result of exclusion from the RAE?  If so, contact your local association immediately.

[1]The main council motions regarding the 2008 RAE are numbers 44 (Liverpool) and 48 (women’s annual meeting). The full text is available on the AUT website at


[2]In the run up to the 2001 RAE, the AUT received anecdotal evidence that women academics who had been on maternity leave were excluded from the RAE for failing to return four items of research. Heads of department were often reluctant to implement the guidelines on maternity leave/career breaks because they feared that the RAE panel would penalise the submission.

[3]AUT (2004) Academic staff 2002-03 - gender & research activity in the 2001 Research Assessment Exercise.

[4]Guidance from the Equality Challenge Unit on drawing up a code of practice on preparing RAE submissions (Annex G) is available on the 2008 RAE website:



[5]For further guidance on the AUT position on national role profiles and job families, see

[6]For background information see the JNCHES Guidance on pay progression and contribution-related pay. It was published in May 2004 and is on the UCEA website at: