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Equality Proofing of Research Assessment

Main Report

Equality Challenge Unit
October 2003

Executive summary

1. The report was commissioned from the Equality Challenge Unit (ECU) by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) as part of the consultation process for the review of research assessment by Sir Gareth Roberts.

2. The report was to address:

and to provide specific advice on:

3. It was not part of the brief to comment on the academic dimensions of the research assessment.

4. The Main Report, which is presented here, elaborates upon the interim report which the ECU submitted in September 2003 to coincide with the sector-wide consultation deadline.

5. The recommendations are made within the three-level approach outlined in the consultation document, and assumes an interim assessment of research competencies in advance of a selective Research Quality Assessment. If there were to be modifications to the operational framework, most of the principles put forward could easily be adapted to a new overall framework.

6. The Report is based on the essential principle that assessment of the equal opportunities dimension in the submission does not form part of any research grading, but is judged on a threshold basis. It is, however, recommended that the robustness of the equal opportunities part of the submission be underpinned by a degree of internal moderation built into the system for exercises subsequent to that planned for 2007; by the use of external consultants; and by the establishment of a penalty by the Funding Councils in the cases of extreme violations of the equal opportunities requirements.

7. Since, by the time of the next and subsequent Research Assessments, many new and highly relevant legislative frameworks will be in place, these are surveyed before any recommendations are made.

8. A further contextualising dimension in the Report is a brief survey of recent developments which have increased institutions’ capacity to meet explicit equal opportunities requirements, and thus any requirements which may be adopted within future Research Assessments.

9. The Main Report supports a balance between institutional and funding council control over the research assessment process and accordingly makes two groups of recommendations, relating to:

10. It is proposed that use is made of institutions’ human resources strategies for the interim assessment, and that additionally a template is used for collecting institutional-level information that is focused more on the equal opportunities dimension of research activity.

11. On the principle of ‘something for something’, it is proposed that those institutions seeking further levels of research funding by submitting UoAs to the Research Quality Assessment exercise should provide additional information about equal opportunities practices at the time of the RQA, again using the template.

12. Within this Report, explanatory commentaries are provided for each of the questions proposed for the template. Explanations such as these could be provided to institutions.

13. It is envisaged that there will be some variation between the assessment in 2007 and those in subsequent years in view of the differing levels of information that will be available. This is accommodated within the template proposed, which will have an additional section for Research Assessments after 2007.


Recommendation 1

We recommend that the funding councils review the method of selection of UoA panel members and Chairs.

Recommendation 2

We recommend that prolonged absences from work are treated in the same way by all panels. Specific rules should be formulated to provide guidance on the treatment of prolonged sick leave, absences relating to a disabled person’s impairment, maternity/adoption leave, other exceptional prolonged absence, secondment, career breaks, additional caring responsibilities eg for elderly parents and in the case of clinicians, unusually burdensome clinical or contractual responsibilities.

Recommendation 3

We recommend that all panels should specify consistent criteria for dealing with the inclusion of those who have recently joined the profession.

Recommendation 4

We recommend that panels be trained and fully briefed on the new standards to be applied in respect of equal opportunities in assessing the work of individuals, particularly in the light of the rising standards set by legislation, and the consequent risks involved.

Recommendation 5

We recommend that the equal opportunities information submitted for the interim assessment should comprise the institution’s current Human Resources strategy, with the sections relevant for equal opportunities itemised on a cover-sheet; and that equal opportunities information focused on research activity should be provided in a defined template.

Recommendation 6

We recommend that, at the time of the Research Quality Assessment, all institutions seeking funding through the quality assessment of UoAs would provide further equal opportunities information, again using the template

Recommendation 7

We recommend that, in research assessments after 2007, a further section be added to the template so that comment and explanation relative to the equal opportunities information in the previous submission can be provided, thus embedding a degree of internal moderation.

Recommendation 8

To ensure consistency of interpretation, we recommend that one body assesses all the institutions’ equal opportunities information, for the interim exercise submitting their evaluation to the national team, and for the RQA proper to the relevant UoA panels, as confirmation that the threshold has been achieved.

Recommendation 9

We recommend that the funding councils determine the way in which failure to achieve an acceptable standard in the equalities dimension will impact on the overall result.