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.