The Diary

Jenny Mathers

Originally published in 1996/1997, Issue 2

Research Assessment Exercise

Since the last issue of Interstate the results of the 1996 round of the Research Assessment Exercise or RAE have been announced. The anticipation of this result has dominanted the waking moments (and for some, the sleeping ones as well) of academic staff in universities in the UK for the past year at least. The higher education funding councils use the RAE ratings to determine how much money universities will receive to support their research, with top ranking departments ‘earning’ more cash than those which are rated lower on the scale. The expectations, both within the University and within the discipline, of what the Department would achieve were enormous, so it was with a great sense of relief that we learned that we have achieved the coveted 5 rating. (There is now one rating above that, the 5*, which gives us something to aim for the next time around.)

Only a handful of departments of politics or international politics gained a 5 or 5*, which means that International Politics at Aberystwyth is clearly regarded within the discipline as in the vanguard of research excellence. There is a further aspect to the RAE which has escaped the notice of many, and that is the distinction between those departments in which all or most lecturers are ‘research active’, and those departments which excluded a substantial percentage of their academic staff from RAE scrutiny. Departments are permitted to include as many or as few staff as they wish in their RAE submission. This means that in some places the research stars are put forward and other lecturers who publish less (or produce work of a lower quality) are hidden. Aberystwyth is only one of 6 departments of politics or international politics in the UK which gained a 5 or 5* and included 80-100% of its academic staff in the assessment. (In fact all the academic staff in this department were included in the submission.) This development has caused one professor of politics writing in the newsletter of the Political Studies Association to describe a ‘premier league’ of LSE, Essex, Oxford, Sheffield, Aberystwyth and Strathclyde.

What the RAE results means in practical terms for Interpol students at Aberystwyth (apart from being taught by smiling, happy lecturers) is that the Department will have additional resources in the future. That means more lecturers, more choice in modules available, and more money to buy books and journals for the library. It also means that the quality of a degree from this Department is likely to be enhanced. Students who graduate with a degree in International Politics from Aberystwyth can say without a doubt that they are taught by experts in the field.

That’s the good news. The other side of this coin is that RAE is likely to continue to take place every 4 years and its results are likely to continue to be closely linked to funding. That means the Department cannot afford to bask in the glow of achievement for long. Already plans are being made for our submission for RAE 2000. These plans involve giving as many sabbatical semesters to as many members of staff as possible in the next two years (the crucial period for producing books which can be published by the year 2000). although great care is being taken to ensure that students will still have a wide choice of modules within a given academic year.

Review of International Studies

Another recent major victory for the Department is the successful bid to edit the Review of International Studies, one of the major journals in the field of international relations. From January 1998 the journal will edited by Mick Cox, with associate editors Ken Booth and Tim Dunne. The Aber team was chosen in preference to bids from metropolitan universities in England, such as Leeds and Birmingham, which reflects both the quality of the bid put forward and the reputation of Aberystwyth in the profession. It is considered a ‘big deal’ to edit a major journal, and the academic staff in the Department are very excited about providing a home for the Review.

Cymdeithas Wleidyddol Gymraeg

The new Welsh-medium sister society of the International Politics Society has got off to a good start this academic year. In December they invited BBC correspondent Guto Harri to address their members on the subject of corruption in Parliament and the British parliamentary system over the centuries. In February the society and BBC Wales television organised a question time-style meeting featuring candidates from the major political parties who will be standing in constituencies in Wales at the general election. The meeting was filmed and broadcast on S4C’s politics program ‘Maniffesto’. The meeting was conducted through the medium of Welsh, but simultaneous translation facilities were provided for those of us who don’t speak the language of heaven. Simply seeing how such programs are made was an educational experience in itself. It was also noticeable that these would-be MPs (all middle-aged men, by the way) were considerably more candid in their remarks when the cameras weren’t rolling. All in all it’s been a very active and successful first year for Cymdeithas Wleidyddol Gymraeg, which already has nearly 100 members. We look forward to seeing them go from strength to strength.

Postgraduate News

In early March a number of the Department’s PhD students played a leading role in organising a one-day workshop which focussed on a wide range of problems in Africa, such as environmental degradation, gender inequality and the persistence of oppressive military regimes. ‘Understanding Security and Development in Africa’ was organised jointly by the Aberystwyth Forum on Humanitarian Affairs and the African and Caribbean Society, with money provided by 3 departments (Interpol, Law and History), the Faculty of Economic and Social Sciences and the Overseas Students Association. The workshop was a great success, and brought together over 100 people who have an interest in the region, including academics from other UK universities and professionals from non-governmental organisations which operate in Africa.

Good news for future postgraduates in the Department came with the announcement by the ESRC (Economic and Social Science Research Council) of its quota awards for Masters programmes. The ESRC funds postgraduate work in the social sciences, and its decisions determine whether many will be able to prolong their lives as students and study for further degrees. The quota awards decision means that Aberystwyth will be able to offer fully-funded places for 6 Masters students each year, 3 on each of 2 of its Masters programmes. In getting 6 awards, in addition, the Department received more than any other department of politics or international politics in the UK.

In a separate development, the European Studies programme has been awarded money by the European Commission to develop a European integration ‘Monnet Centre of Excellence’, featuring a new Masters degree on the politics of the EU, which is due to begin in September 1997. Some of the money has been earmarked to create a bursary to pay the fees of a student studying for the degree.

Arrivals and Departures

Since the last issue of Interstate Fiona Butler has left the Department to take up a job as European Officer at Winchester College of Art, which is associated with Southampton University. Professor John Garnett has retired as Woodrow Wilson Professor, although he will stay on to teach in the Department on a part-time basis for the next few years. A new Woodrow Wilson Professor will probably be appointed in 1998.

Recently arrived in the Department is Caroline Haste, who is our first Departmental Administrator. She will be taking over more and more administrative tasks previously carried out by lecturers, which will allow academic staff to spend more time concentrating on their teaching and research.