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Quality profile will provide fuller and fairer assessment of research

11 February 2004

The next Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) planned for 2008 will use quality profiles to provide a fuller and fairer assessment of research carried out in universities and colleges in the United Kingdom.

The four UK higher education funding bodies (Note 1) have agreed the framework and timing of the next RAE, following a major review and widespread consultation (Note 2).

The results of the exercise will be expressed as quality profiles of research in each department submitted to the RAE. They will determine the annual distribution of more than 8 billion for research in UK higher education institutions over a six-year period from 2009.

The quality profiles measure the different proportions of work in a submission that reach each of four defined levels of quality. (See example in Note 3.) They will replace the overall judgement of research for each department based on a seven point grading scale used in the previous exercises.

Sir Howard Newby, Chief Executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England, said:

"We firmly believe that this new approach, which has been fully supported in the consultation, provides a fairer and more accurate way of assessing and funding research quality.

"The use of quality profiles will reduce the tactical element in preparing submissions. The incentive will be for institutions to include all their good researchers rather than aiming for a particular grade. The new method will also benefit institutions with comparatively small pockets of excellence within a larger research unit, as the true scale and strength of their best work will be more visible.

"The 2001 exercise resulted in over half of all submitted work being awarded the top two points on a seven-point scale. There were concerns that the rating scale could no longer provide the degree of discrimination needed for a continuing policy of selective funding. We believe that the quality profiles based on a four-point scale will provide the degree of discrimination needed.

"We are indebted to Sir Gareth Roberts and his review group, for providing the basis for this new framework. As a result of the consultation we have reviewed and refined many of the proposals, and now believe we have an assessment method which meets the requirements of universities and colleges and the funding bodies, and which will continue to support the continuous improvement in the quality of the UK research base."

Sir Gareth Roberts, chair of the research assessment review group, said:

"I am delighted that so many of the principles in my report have been accepted and form the basis of the new re-styled Research Assessment Exercise. I fully acknowledge the decision of the funding bodies to reduce the complexity of the suggested reforms to a minimum. The major changes agreed with respect to the quality profiles, the tiered panel structure and increased emphasis on applied research will ensure a different, more rigorous and fairer assessment exercise in future."

The new RAE framework is based on the following:

In developing the plans for the next RAE, the four funding bodies have paid particular attention to ensuring that the cost of the exercise, and the administrative burden on universities and colleges, will be kept to a minimum consistent with its expected impact and the resources to be allocated using its outcomes.

Work is continuing to finalise the details of the exercise. A consultation on the assessment panel structure and the appointment of panel members will begin shortly. A further detailed announcement on the conduct of the exercise is expected before the end of 2004.


  1. "RAE 2008: Initial decisions by the four UK funding bodies" [the Higher Education Funding Council for England; the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales; the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council and the Department for Employment and Learning in Northern Ireland] provides the framework and timing of the next RAE. (Ref RAE 01/2004).
  2. The most recent UK RAE was completed in 2001. Research assessment is generally agreed to have had a significant positive impact, but it has also been subject to criticism. In response to concerns, the funding bodies agreed to commission a full review of their approach to research assessment. This was undertaken by a review group led by Sir Gareth Roberts and their report was published for consultation in May 2003 (HEFCE 2003/22).
  3. Example of a quality profile:
    Example of a quality profile
    Unit of assessment (subject) AFull-time equivalent staff submitted for assessmentPercentage of research activity in the submission judged to meet the standard for:
    Four starThree starTwo starOne starUnclassified
    highest quality < --------------------- > lowest quality
    University X50152540155
    University Y2005404510
  4. The closing date for submissions to the 2008 RAE will be 30 November 2007. The results will be published in December 2008.