Message 1: ‘RAE2008 confirms UK’s dominant position in international research’

Like the launch of a spaceship at Cape Canaveral, the UK Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) is being prepared for full release.  The press release was loaded up 14 minutes ago (and is reprinted below).  Careers, and department futures, will be made and broken when the results emerge in 46 minutes.

Note how they frame the results ever so globally; indeed far more so than in previous RAEs.  I’ll be reporting back tomorrow when the results are out, and I’ve had a chance to unpack what “international” means, and also assess just how “international” the make-up of the review panels — both the main and sub-panels — is (or is not), and what types of international registers were taken into account when assessing ‘quality’. In short, can one self-proclaim a “dominant position” in the international research landscape, and if so on what basis? Leaving aside the intra-UK dynamics (and effects) at work here, this RAE is already turning out to be a mechanism to position a research nation within the global research landscape. But for what purpose?

RAE2008 confirms UK’s dominant position in international research

18 December 2008

The results of the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise (RAE2008) announced today confirm the dominant position that universities and colleges in the United Kingdom hold in international research.

RAE2008, which is based on expert review, includes the views of international experts in all the main subject areas. The results demonstrate that 54% of the research conducted by 52,400 staff submitted by 159 universities and colleges is either ‘world-leading’ (17 per cent in the highest grade) – or ‘internationally excellent’ (37 per cent in the second highest grade).

Taking the top three grades together (the third grade represents work of internationally recognised quality), 87% of the research activity is of international quality. Of the remaining research submitted, nearly all is of recognised national quality in terms of originality, significance and rigour.

Professor David Eastwood, Chief Executive of HEFCE, said:

“This represents an outstanding achievement, confirming that the UK is among the top rank of research powers in the world. The outcome shows more clearly than ever that there is excellent research to be found across the higher education sector. A total of 150 of the 159 institutions have some work of world-leading quality, while 49 have research of the highest quality in all of their submissions.

“The 2008 RAE has been a detailed, thorough and robust assessment of research quality. Producing quality profiles for each submission – rather than single-point ratings – has enabled the panels to exercise finer degrees of judgement. The assessment process has allowed them to take account of the full breadth of research quality, including inter-disciplinary, applied, basic and strategic research wherever it is located.

“Although we cannot make a direct comparison with the previous exercise carried out in 2001, we can be confident that the results are consistent with other benchmarks indicating that the UK holds second place globally to the US in significant subject fields. One of the most encouraging factors is that the panels reported very favourably on the high-quality work undertaken by early career researchers, which will help the UK to maintain this leading position in the future.”

John Denham, Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, said:

“The latest RAE reinforces the UK’s position as a world leader in research and I congratulate our universities and colleges for achieving such outstanding results.

“The fact that over 50 per cent of research is either ‘world-leading or ‘internationally excellent’ further confirms that the UK continues to punch above its weight in this crucial field.

“To maintain global excellence during these challenging economic times it will be vital to continue to invest in research, this is why we have committed to fund almost £6bn in research and innovation in England by 2011.”

Key findings:

  • 54% of the research is either ‘world-leading’ (17% in 4*) – or ‘internationally excellent’ (37% in 3*)
  • 1,258 of the 2,363 submissions (53% of total) had at least 50% of their activity rated in the two highest grades. These submissions were found in 118 institutions
  • All the submissions from 16 institutions had at least 50% of their activity assessed as 3* or 4*
  • 84% of all submissions were judged to contain at least 5% world-leading quality research
  • 150 of the 159 higher education institutions (HEIs) that took part in RAE2008 demonstrated at least 5% world-leading quality research in one or more of their submissions
  • 49 HEIs have at least some world-leading quality research in all of their submissions.

The ratings scale, which was included in the press release, is pasted in below:


Kris Olds