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Briefing note 14

Interdisciplinary Research and the RAE

This briefing note sets out information on the treatment of interdisciplinary research by the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE). It should be read in conjunction with the RAE 1/99 Interdisciplinary Research and the RAE, RAE 2/99 Guidance on Submissionsand RAE 5/99 - Assessment panels' criteria and working methods

2. The funding bodies are committed to ensuring that interdisciplinary research is equitably and properly assessed within the RAE. Following the 1996 RAE they commissioned a wide-ranging study on the assessment of interdisciplinary research by the RAE. The study, Interdisciplinary Research and the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE 1/99, available at http://www.rae.ac.uk) concluded that:

  • Interdisciplinary research is pervasive throughout higher education. Around four-fifths of researchers report that they are engaged in at least some interdisciplinary work.
  • However,

  • Departments and researchers widely believe the RAE inhibits interdisciplinary research.
  • Despite these beliefs, there is no evidence that the RAE systematically discriminated against interdisciplinary research in 1996.

3. The study also identified, however, a lack of consistency in the treatment of interdisciplinary research by individual panels, and some difficulties where departments chose to split their researchers between Units of Assessment (UoAs) or to seek cross-referral between panels. It made a number of recommendations for procedural improvements to the 2001 RAE to address these issues. The recommendations have been implemented for the 2001 exercise.

4. Each panel within its statement of criteria and working methods, developed as a result of a broad consultation process with the sector, has set out how it will approach the assessment of interdisciplinary research. The umbrella meetings of panel chairs in cognate areas, which are a new feature of the RAE in 2001, provide a forum for monitoring and discussing the assessment of interdisciplinary work across panels.

5. Within the textual parts of submissions higher education institutions (HEIs) have the opportunity to explain the structure of their research activity. This can include, where appropriate, arrangements for supporting interdisciplinary research and the inter-relationship of work submitted by the institution to a number of UoAs. It also offers HEIs an opportunity to explain where their departments or other organisational units do not fit well with the UoA framework and have been split between more than one UoA.

6. HEIs engaged in interdisciplinary research may request that work submitted to one UoA be cross-referred to the panel for one or more other UoA(s). This is the principal purpose of cross-referrals. Such requests for cross-referral are mandatory on panels. Panels may also cross-refer work to other panels where they believe this to be necessary to ensure proper assessment of a submission even if this has not been requested by the submitting institution.

7. In all cases of cross-referral the whole submission will be made available to all panels concerned. Assessment of cross-referred work will normally include direct discussion involving at least one member of each panel involved. Responsibility for the rating awarded will remain with the panel for the UoA to which the work was originally submitted.

8. The treatment of interdisciplinary research in the RAE will continue to be monitored and evaluated by the funding bodies, principally through RAE Team attendance at panel meetings.

9. For further information please contact:

The RAE team,
Northavon House,
Bristol BS16 1QD

Email: rae@hefce.ac.uk

Last updated 11 January 2001

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