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Don't disregard work of universities


Many of the issues raised by Professor William Powrie (NCE 28 March/4April) were highlighted in the Institution's response to the Science and Technology Committee of the House of Commons in January.

We agree with him that the fault is with the government, not the Higher Education Funding Council of England (HEFCE). As we explained in this response, much has been done to improve and measure the standard of university research, yet it would appear that the government may disregard the outcome of this valuable work.

We highlighted that this action will have many damaging consequences, as:

luniversities have invested their own cash to boost performance and respond to competition from their national/international peers;

lacademic staff have invested time and effort preparing for the 2001 RAE while, at the same time, improving their research performance;

lindustrialists, represented on engineering panels and involved in joint projects with universities, will consider that they have wasted their valuable time; and lpanel members from universities, who sacrificed much of the summer of 2001, will be reluctant to co-operate in any future exercises.

It is therefore essential that the government reacts more positively than the first responses from minister Margaret Hodge would indicate.

As an RAE 1996 and 2001 panel member, I share Professor Powrie's concern. It would appear that the significant improvements made since 1996 are unlikely to result in improved funding except in a few cases. For this reason, we need to take every opportunity as an Institution and, in collaboration with other institutions and the Royal Academy of Engineering, to get our message across.

Professor A E Long, Faculty of Engineering, Queen's University, Cloreen Park, Malone Road, Belfast BT9 5HN

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