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EDITIONS
Friday, 14 December, 2001, 00:15 GMT
Oxbridge research is tops
Cambridge scene
Cambridge has the most top-scoring departments
Oxford and Cambridge have maintained their positions at the cutting edge of academic research in the UK, ratings tables show.

The two ancient universities have the highest number of departments given the top two scores - 5 and 5* - in the 2001 Research Assessment Exercise (RAE).

Click here for the tables

The RAE - a rigorous assessment of the quality of research produced in UK academic institutions - is carried out on a five-year basis to enable funding councils to select which institutions should be given a slice of the cake - and how big.

Universities with the most 5 and 5* ratings
Cambridge 48
Oxford 42
UCL 40
Manchester 37
Bristol 36
Sheffield 35
Birmingham 32
Edinburgh 28
Leeds 28
Nottingham 26
Newcastle 25
Warwick 25

Source: RAE
The ratings range from 1 to 5* depending on how much of the work is judged to be of national or international levels of excellence.

So, more than half the research activity in a department rated 5* would be of international excellence, but in a department rated 1 none - or virtually none - of the research would be considered to be even of national excellence.

In 2000-01, the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) did not give any funding for a 1 or 2 rating, while a 5* attracted about four times as much as a 3b rating.

Cambridge's edge

In total, 30 of the 51 departments observed at Cambridge University were rated 5* and 18 at 5 - just three were at level 4.

At Oxford, 25 of its 46 entries were graded 5* and 17 were graded 5 - the remaining four scored at level 4.


Oxford and Cambridge remain clear leaders of the field

Dr Colin Lucas, vice-chancellor of Oxford
The one blip for Oxford was that its history department was awarded a 5 (down from a 5* in 1996), whereas local rival Oxford Brookes - a former polytechnic - scored 5* for its history research.

Scoring almost as well in terms of the number of top-rated departments was University College London, with 16 rated 5* and 24 rated 5.

Manchester University had 37 departments rated 5 or 5*, followed closely by Bristol with 36.

Of course, ranking universities in terms of which have the highest number of top-performing departments is tough on specialist institutions.

For example, Imperial College, London scored highly - 13 departments with a 5* rating, seven with 5, two with 4 and none rated 3 to 1.

And the London School of Economics did well with seven 5*s, five 5s and one 4, and no departments rated 3 to 1.

But with fewer departments they appear to lag behind institutions with the full range of academic disciplines.

Weaker end

At the other end of the scale, four departments at Thames Valley University, London, were rated at level 1 and three at level 2.

Vice-chancellor at Oxford, Dr Colin Lucas
Dr Colin Lucas: Proud at the staff's performance
Seven of the nine entries from Southampton Institute were given a 2 rating, as were five of 10 entries from the University of Teesside.

Four of the five entries from Swansea Institute of Higher Education were at levels 1 and 2.

And there was disappointment for the Central School of Speech and Drama, London, Rose Bruford College, Kent and Writtle College, Essex - all of which scored level 2 for the one single department they entered for the RAE.

Former polytechnics 'improve'

The statistics indicate that "new universities" (former polytechnics) have improved their research base since the previous RAE of 1996.

Last time no new university department scored a 5* and only 10 achieved level 5 - but that rose to three and 43 in 2001.

And the number of these institutions with the bottom score of 1 point has gone down from 214 to just 17.

'Leaders of the field'

The vice-chancellor at Oxford, Dr Colin Lucas, tribute to the commitment of academic staff.

"The RAE 2001 has confirmed that, among those UK universities with the full range of academic disciplines, Oxford and Cambridge remain clear leaders of the field," he said.

Cambridge University said the results showed it was not only maintaining, but driving forward its reputation as a centre of international excellence in research.

But vice-chancellor Professor Sir Alec Broers warned that the "chronic under-funding" of higher education could hinder the UK's research effort.

"If there is a shared commitment to the delivery of quality teaching and research of the kind that this country, and Cambridge in particular, does so well, this commitment must be accompanied by additional funding," said Sir Alec.

See also:

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