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Bartlett academics slam research panel 'scandal'

Leading academics from the Bartlett school have condemned the assessment panel responsible for the recent drop in its research rating and accused its chairman of bias.

In an article to be published in arq - the architectural research quarterly, Philip Steadman and Bill Hillier claim the latest research assessment exercise for the built environment was intrinsically weighted against architecture departments.

Steadman, a professor at the Bartlett, which saw its government funding plummet as a result of a fall in its rating, told the AJ the panel was a 'scandal'. And he claimed chairman Peter Brandon, director of strategic programmes at Salford, had given preferential treatment to his own university, which was one of only two to receive the top five-star rating for architecture.

From Steadman and Hillman's statistical analysis of the results, 'Salford didn't do any better than any other school', Steadman said.'The five-star rating for Salford is linked to him [Brandon] being chair of the committee.'

Furthermore, the panel was not representative, the authors claim. 'The 2001 exercise is seriously flawed because the panel was dominated by construction and surveying departments, not architecture, ' Steadman said. 'Therefore their conclusions are seriously in question.'

However, Brandon fiercely denied the charge:

'The fact that I was chairman had nothing to do with it. I really was not a party to any of that discussion at all. I didn't put pressure on anybody, ' he said.

The research ratings, set by the RAE, determine the level of government research funding each school receives for a period of five to six years. The Bartlett saw its rating drop from a five to a four at the end of 2001, representing a possible drop of as much as £3.5 million over six years (AJ 25.4.02).

In the paper, the authors conclude: 'We do not find evidence of any marked superiority of fiverated submissions over four-rated submissions.'

But Brandon dismissed the research, claiming it was based on a 'fundamental flaw', since assessment was based on the 'quality of the work' not statistical data. And he disputed that the panel was unfairly weighted in favour of construction.

The panel's refusal to release detailed explanations for its decisions and the lack of appeals procedure also came in for strident criticism from Steadman and Hillier. And they urged other schools to put pressure on the Higher Education Funding Council for England, which is undertaking a review of the RAE, to reform the system.

'The point of publishing is to get people to speak up and come forward, ' Steadman said.

'We're very angry. At one time we thought of bringing a legal case. It isn't as though we got a bad mark and can forget about it.We're lumbered with getting less money and others are getting more that we don't think deserve it.'

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