Select Committee on Science and Technology Second Report



14. The RAE is a periodic mechanism to determine the volume and quality of research in higher education throughout the UK. Institutions conducting the best research, as quantified by the RAE, receive the largest proportion of QR funding. The RAE was undertaken first in 1986, and subsequently in 1989, 1992, 1996 and 2001. It was changed substantially in 1992 with the creation of the new universities and the Higher Education Funding Councils (formed from the merger of the Polytechnics and Colleges Funding Council and the University Grants Committee). Before the RAE, the University Grants Committee used subject­based committees as a mechanism for allocating research funds selectively. It was criticised for lacking transparency.[15] Other countries that use mechanisms similar to the RAE include Hong Kong, Australia and Poland.[16]


15. For RAE 2001, research was divided into 68 subject areas or Units of Assessment (UoAs), of which 32 could be described as science, medicine or engineering. An assessment panel was recruited to examine research in each of these areas. Panel sizes varied according to discipline; for example, Physics had 11 members and Biological Sciences had 20. In some UoAs sub-panels were set up, for example in cancer studies. Panels could call in outside expertise if its members felt unqualified. A submitting department could ask for its work to be cross-referred to other relevant panels if it spanned the boundary between UoAs or was interdisciplinary in character.[17]

16. HE institutions were invited to make submissions to as many UoAs as they chose. Each submission contained the names of 'research active staff' along with up to four research outputs for each person; for example, journal articles, books, book chapters, conference contributions and patents.[18] Panels were expected to make a judgement on a researcher based only on the outputs submitted. They were able to consider reasons why a researcher had not produced the requisite four outputs.

17. The period of assessment was five years for science, medical and engineering UoAs and seven for most humanities subjects, reflecting the publication patterns in these subjects.[19] Submissions to the RAE in 1996 in these 7-year UoAs could be resubmitted in 2001. We return to this issue in paragraph 38.

18. There was no restriction on the proportion or number of academic staff submitted as research active, although these data were published. (Submissions are designated A­F depending on the proportion of staff entered. A = 95­100% staff submitted; B = 80­94.9%; C = 60­79.9%; D = 40­59.9%; E = 20­39.9%; and F = below 20%.) For the 2001 RAE researchers who had moved between institutions in the period of review (known as A* staff) could be cited by both institutions and contribute to their ratings, however only the institution to which the researcher moved would get the funding for that researcher. The panels scored each departmental submission on a 7-point scale, the lowest being 1 and the highest 5* (see table 1 below). Each panel published a set of assessment criteria and working methods before starting its deliberations, to which it was bound to adhere. There was no formal provision for appeals.

Table 1: The RAE ratings system

(5 star)
Levels of international excellence in more than half of the research activity submitted and attainable levels of national excellence in the remainder.
5 Levels of international excellence in up to half of the research activity submitted and to attainable levels of national excellence in virtually all of the remainder.
4 Levels of national excellence in virtually all of the research activity submitted, showing some evidence of international excellence.
3a Levels of national excellence in over two-thirds of the research activity submitted, possibly showing evidence of international excellence.
3b Levels of national excellence in more than half of the research activity submitted.
2 Levels of national excellence in up to half of the research activity submitted.
1 Levels of national excellence in virtually none of the research activity submitted.

15   Ev 3, para 26. See also The Guardian - Higher, 30 October 2001 Back

16   Aldo Geuna, Ben R Martin. University Research Evaluation and Funding: An International Comparison, SPRU Electronic Paper Series 71, August 2001 Back

17   HEFCE, RAE Circular 5/99 Back

18   A full list can be found via Back

19   Ev 123, para 6 Back

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