RAE 2008 (as I understand it)

In 2008 every uni­ver­sity depart­ment will be graded for their research out­put. This is a major event. In RAE 2001 the depart­ments were rated on a scale between 1 and 5, where 4 was a depart­ment of national import­ance and 5 a depart­ment of inter­na­tional import­ance. The res­ults led to the nation­ally import­ant depart­ments hav­ing fund­ing removed and in some cases, closed down. There were also extra fudge factors like a 5* which benefited some uni­ver­sit­ies, but that’s another issue.

This time around the rat­ing is dif­fer­ent:

4* – Work that is ‘world lead­ing’ will be inter­na­tion­ally out­stand­ing in terms of its ori­gin­al­ity, sig­ni­fic­ance and rigour. This will be seen as innov­at­ive and poten­tially agenda-setting in research, mak­ing a con­tri­bu­tion of which every ser­i­ous worker in the research area is, or ought to be, aware.
3* – Work that is ‘inter­na­tion­ally excel­lent’ in terms of ori­gin­al­ity, sig­ni­fic­ance and rigour. This will rank with the best work in a sim­ilar sub­ject under­taken else­where in the world, which sig­ni­fic­antly advances know­ledge and under­stand­ing and/or ori­ginal thought within the dis­cip­line, and to the devel­op­ment of research agen­das.
2* – Work that is ‘recog­nised inter­na­tion­ally’ in terms of ori­gin­al­ity, sig­ni­fic­ance and rigour. This work will be judged as mak­ing a con­tri­bu­tion which advances know­ledge and under­stand­ing within the dis­cip­line, at a level equi­val­ent to other work in a sim­ilar sub­ject under­taken else­where in the world.
1* – Work that is ‘recog­nised nation­ally’ in terms of ori­gin­al­ity, sig­ni­fic­ance and rigour will make a respec­ted con­tri­bu­tion to know­ledge and under­stand­ing by fol­low­ing estab­lished agen­das.
Unclassified – Work that falls below the stand­ard of nation­ally recog­nised work or which does not meet the pub­lished defin­i­tion of research for the pur­poses of this assess­ment. It will also be applied to ‘miss­ing’ out­puts, where the reason for sub­mit­ting fewer than four out­puts has not been accep­ted by the sub-panel.

A cynic would say that this time round if your work is merely “recog­nised inter­na­tion­ally in terms of ori­gin­al­ity, sig­ni­fic­ance and rigour,” then your fund­ing will be cut, but that’s another issue.

The fig­ure for a depart­ment will come from sub­mis­sions of work by teach­ing and research staff. Not all staff have to sub­mit, but each mem­ber that does will be expec­ted to sub­mit four pieces of work, unless there’s a good reason like long-term ill­ness etc. Another get-out is for Early Career Researchers. For clas­sics and archae­ology there are no hard and fast rules on what gets applied to them as far as I can tell, and here’s what those rules are:

  • Starting Autumn 2003 or after: May sub­mit three pieces of work.
  • Starting Autumn 2005 or after: May sub­mit two pieces of work.
  • Starting Autumn 2007 or after: May sub­mit one piece of work.

It could be someone start­ing this sum­mer might get away with sub­mit­ting one piece, but with so much rest­ing on this it’d be a brave depart­ment that would take the risk. On the plus side a recent (2006/7) PhD thesis may count as a pub­lic­a­tion. Or it might not. The full rules aren’t out yet as far as I can tell.

The census is taken at the end of 2007, so it’s research­ers in depart­ment at that time that count to the score. So if Poor University paid for labs and equip­ment for Top Researcher between 2001 and 2006, and then Top Researcher is poached by Rich University in 2007 with the prom­ise of a gen­er­ous retire­ment in 2008, then Rich University will get the credit for being a lead­ing research envir­on­ment. Yes, I do find that slightly annoy­ing even though this is good news for me. I should have 2–4 pub­lic­a­tions for the census des­pite being an ECR, which should make me attract­ive to employ­ers, but as far as identi­fy­ing centres of excel­lence I’m not sure how fair the sys­tem is. On the plus side the cre­ation of a trans­fer mar­ket for research­ers has help boost aca­demic pay, so it’s not all bad.

If UK research­ers appear a bit mad over the next 20 months or so, then at least you know why. More details, can be found at the RAE site.


When he's not tired, ill or caught in train delays, Alun Salt works part-time for the Annals of Botany weblog. His PhD was in ancient science at the University of Leicester, but he doesn't know Richard III.