Reflections on the 2001 United Kingdom Research Assessment Exercise for Town and Country Planning

Article excerpt

Lead Paper

by JOHN PUNTER*

The 2001 Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) provided the first discrete panel to evaluate Town and Country Planning, separating its evaluation from Unit of Assessment (UoA) 33 Construction (and Architecture). In 1996 the predominantly planning, surveying, housing and transportation schools constituted about one-third of the units in UoA 33/34, but there were only two planners, one planner/surveyor and one surveyor to provide expert inputs into an assessment process that was dominated by construction expertise. The planning and surveying professions and the planning and surveying schools lobbied successfully for a separate panel which was established in 1998.

The RAE at large is governed by principles of clarity, consistency, continuity, credibility, efficiency, neutrality, parity and transparency. Within these principles, the Panel quickly established its own ethos. It wanted its processes and outcomes to be as transparent as possible; it wanted to read all the outputs rather than merely the submissions and the data on income and research students; and it wanted fully to incorporate professionals as representatives of the user community in the evaluation process. To further promote transparency, this paper seeks to provide insights for the research community into the evaluation process and its outcomes, and to stimulate discussion about the nature, criteria and methods of any future assessment exercise. Feedback from the research community will help to establish appropriate traditions for the new Panel, whose membership will change significantly if there is another RAE in 2006.

This paper will hardly mention individual school performance. A brief report on each submission has been sent to the respective universities and relevant heads of department, drawing attention to strengths and weaknesses in the submission. The Panel has tried to make these brief assessment reports as explicit and detailed as possible within the very severe constraints imposed by the exercise and the possibilities of legal challenge of its outcomes. However, this paper focuses on the general issues that emerged during the evaluation process and the overall nature of the Panel's views on the process and its outcomes. The paper proceeds to explain the nature of the field, the composition of the Panel, the cross-referral and external adviser system, and the criteria that were employed. It explains how the criteria were applied and how ratings were decided. It discusses the ratings as a whole, their robustness, areas of dispute, and comparisons with 1996. It makes some general observations on each of the components of each submission-outputs, doctoral programme, funding, strategy and infrastructure, and esteem. It concludes with some ideas as to how the Panel might proceed in the future should the assessment exercise be repeated.

The research field included in UoA 34

The definition of the field of town and country planning included all the sub- fields of planning-rural, urban, regional, economic, social, physical, theory and practice-but also three related fields that constitute parallel disciplines/ professions in their own right-property/chartered surveying, housing and transportation. So the Panel expected to receive submissions that spanned all four disciplines/professions, but also a number of quite specific submissions focused more narrowly on property, housing or transport. In the event it received 28 submissions including most, but not all, of the major planning schools, five land economy/real estate schools, two transport schools, one predominantly housing school and one tourism school. It was disappointed not to receive more property/real estate schools, the majority of which were included within UoA 33 Construction submissions. So the UoA embraces several disciplines with their own professional orientations and research traditions which had to be fitted into a common evaluation framework. …