RAE 2008

Well, the RAE results for UK philosophy departments are out (here’s the Guardian’s summary page: the two Cambridge entries are for HPS, ranked higher, and for the smaller Philosophy Faculty ranked at equal 12th).1 The results for us, and our relative placing in the scheme of things, were I think slightly disappointing but broadly predictable. What with one thing and another, the timing happened not to be great; and we’d perhaps rather too much disdained the game-playing.

Brian Leiter asks one of the right questions, though: What do the rankings actually mean for a student choosing graduate programs? After all, a department full of monomaniacal, autistic, world-class researchers would get a great score but give students a horrible time!

One of our grads put it this way this afternoon: “I’d much rather you guys continue running two or three good graduate seminars and reading groups in my area week in, week out, rather than sitting in your offices with the doors shut trying to improve your research ratings.” Which gets to the nub of what matters as far as sensible choices for graduate study are concerned.

1. In the unlikely event of there being anyone interested enough to read this who doesn’t know what the figures mean, the basic story is that each “research active” member of the department submitted four pieces of work for assessment, which were separately graded as 4* (the best), 3*, etc. Then this research output profile is combined with two other profiles for “research environment” and “esteem” to give the rounded profiles of the departments in each category. So the published figures at this stage aren’t exactly transparent in their significance. More details are published later.

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5 Responses to RAE 2008

  1. Anonymous says:

    What happened to 5* being the best???

  2. Tim says:

    Outsiders who look just at that table in the Grauniad might need it explained why there are two entries labelled “University of Cambridge”: one (the bigger one with the higher ranking…) is the History and Philosophy of Science Department; the other is the Philosophy Faculty.

    A funny business, the whole thing.

  3. Peter Smith says:

    The whole scaling system has changed, hence no 5*. Thanks to Tim for pointing out that key bit of info missing from the Guardian’s table — I’ve now added the info to my post.

  4. Anonymous says:

    The tables that are being published are probably badly skewed. The proportions of eligible staff who were not returned in departmental submissions were NOT included, which means that some departments (probably in post-92 universities) are benefitting massively from this important indicator of the real research culture in any academic department not being taken into account. The story of this blunder is here:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2008/dec/18/rae-data-flawed

  5. Peter Smith says:

    Yes — there are all sorts of complications there. After all, our return says there are (the equivalent of) 19 full-time people in the return. The Faculty’s establishment is in fact 12, and we are about the smallest serious philosophy department in the UK.

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