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EDITIONS
Friday, 14 December, 2001, 00:20 GMT
UK research 'world class'
Cambridge University
Cambridge University scored the most top grades
University research in the United Kingdom is improving - and is among the best in the world, concludes a major assessment exercise.

The research assessment exercise (RAE), which is carried out every five years and which decides the allocation of 1bn funding, shows that an increasing number of university departments have achieved the highest grades.

Click here for the tables

The assessment found that 64% of research submitted was of national or international level of excellence - up from 43% five years ago.

And 55% of all research staff are now working in departments which have been assessed as carrying out research of international excellence.

Shakespeare
English literature research showed a sharp improvement

These results, which were verified by international academics, "confirm the UK's position as one of the world's foremost research nations", said Sir Howard Newby, head of the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

There are more top rated 5* departments than ever before, with Cambridge University achieving the highest number - with 30.

Oxford University has the second highest number of 5* departments, with 25, followed by University College London, with 16.

New universities on top

There were also signs of an overall improvement in the former polytechnics, with Oxford Brookes achieving a 5* in history, compared with 5 for Oxford University.

The 5* rating means that departments are judged to have achieved a standard of international excellence in more than half of the research submitted.


It is time for the RAE in its current form to be put out of its misery

Association of University Teachers
Sir Howard Newby rejected suggestions that the overall improvements were "grade inflation" and said that all the evidence pointed towards a definite increase in quality.

But there were signs that universities were being more "strategic" in the subjects and staff submitted for assessment - with fewer submissions than in 1996.

Unlike school performance tables, these higher education research assessments only consider the departments and staff which a university chooses to put forward for evaluation.

The incentive for submitting departments for assessment is the chance of gaining a slice of the 910m research funding.

Departments rated 3b to 5* are set to receive funding. Those departments scoring 5* can receive four times the funding given to those rated at 3b.

Lowest ratings

Departments which only rated 1 or 2 do not receive funding - and Thames Valley University had the most lowest rated departments.

These four bottom rating departments were assessed to have virtually no research which attained levels of excellence.

Within subject areas, the greatest improvement was in English literature, in which there were 14 top-rated departments, compared with four in 1996.

There were 12 psychology departments which achieved the top grade, followed by biological sciences with 11.

World-class level

The umbrella group Universities UK said the results showed the UK was competing well on an international playing field.

"These results show that our universities are contributing at world-class level and we urge the government to provide the resources to recognise and build on this success," said the group's president, Professor Roderick Floud.

It was also important to reward the best without penalising the weaker institutions, he added.

'Bureaucratic drain'

The Association of University Teachers welcomed the improved results of the RAE, but warned of the strain it put on staff.

Assistant general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: "The RAE remains a divisive and bureaucratic drain on university staff."

"It is time for the RAE in its current form to be put out of its misery."

The AUT also urged the government to invest more in university research.

"The government cannot expect ongoing improvements in quality without providing more resources," said Ms White.

"We are calling on Hefce to join with AUT and other unions in lobbying the government for an end to the research gridlock and a better funding settlement."

See also:

14 Dec 01 | UK Education
14 Dec 01 | UK Education
14 Dec 01 | UK Education
27 Nov 01 | UK Education
02 Mar 01 | UK Education
16 Nov 00 | UK Education
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