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RAE2008 confirms UK's dominant position in international research

18 December 2008

The results of the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise (RAE2008) announced today confirm the dominant position that universities and colleges in the United Kingdom hold in international research.

RAE2008, which is based on expert review, includes the views of international experts in all the main subject areas. The results demonstrate that 54% of the research conducted by 52,400 staff submitted by 159 universities and colleges is either 'world-leading' (17 per cent in the highest grade) - or 'internationally excellent' (37 per cent in the second highest grade).

Taking the top three grades together (the third grade represents work of internationally recognised quality), 87% of the research activity is of international quality. Of the remaining research submitted, nearly all is of recognised national quality in terms of originality, significance and rigour.

Professor David Eastwood, Chief Executive of HEFCE, said:

"This represents an outstanding achievement, confirming that the UK is among the top rank of research powers in the world. The outcome shows more clearly than ever that there is excellent research to be found across the higher education sector. A total of 150 of the 159 institutions have some work of world-leading quality, while 49 have research of the highest quality in all of their submissions.

"The 2008 RAE has been a detailed, thorough and robust assessment of research quality. Producing quality profiles for each submission - rather than single-point ratings - has enabled the panels to exercise finer degrees of judgement. The assessment process has allowed them to take account of the full breadth of research quality, including inter-disciplinary, applied, basic and strategic research wherever it is located.

"Although we cannot make a direct comparison with the previous exercise carried out in 2001, we can be confident that the results are consistent with other benchmarks indicating that the UK holds second place globally to the US in significant subject fields. One of the most encouraging factors is that the panels reported very favourably on the high-quality work undertaken by early career researchers, which will help the UK to maintain this leading position in the future."

John Denham, Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, said:

"The latest RAE reinforces the UK's position as a world leader in research and I congratulate our universities and colleges for achieving such outstanding results.

"The fact that over 50 per cent of research is either 'world-leading or 'internationally excellent' further confirms that the UK continues to punch above its weight in this crucial field.

"To maintain global excellence during these challenging economic times it will be vital to continue to invest in research, this is why we have committed to fund almost 6bn in research and innovation in England by 2011."

Key findings:


1. RAE2008 is a UK-wide exercise administered on behalf of the four UK higher education funding bodies by the RAE team based at HEFCE's offices in Bristol. RAE01/2008 RAE2008: the outcome is available from 0001 on Thursday 18 December.

2. All data in this press release are UK-wide.

3. The primary purpose of RAE2008 is to produce quality profiles for each submission of research activity made by higher education institutions. The results will be used by the four UK funding bodies to determine the funding for research to the institutions which they fund from 2009-10. Over 1.5 billion will be allocated annually from 2009-10.

4. Any HEI in the UK that is eligible to receive research funding from one of these bodies was invited to participate in the exercise. The RAE is a discipline-based expert review process in which judgements on the quality of research are made by researchers and experts active in that discipline.

5. Panels assessing the quality of research operated in a two-tier panel structure. There were 15 main panels and 67 sub-panels, comprising 1,000 panel members. Panel members were academics or users of research. As well as reviewing more than 200,000 pieces of research work submitted for assessment, panel members assessed the research environment and esteem indicators in each submission.

6. The results are produced as a quality profile which shows the proportions, rounded to 5%, of research activity in each submission judged to have met each of the four quality levels from 4* to unclassified. The number of research-active staff submitted is shown against each profile. Definitions of quality are defined as shown in the table.

RAE2008 quality levels

Scale Definition UK overall % at this quality level
4*Quality that is world-leading in terms of originality, significance and rigour. 17
3* Quality that is internationally excellent in terms of originality, significance and rigour but which nonetheless falls short of the highest standards of excellence. 37
2* Quality that is recognised internationally in terms of originality, significance and rigour. 33
1* Quality that is recognised nationally in terms of originality, significance and rigour. 11
Unclassified Quality that falls below the standard of nationally recognised work. Or work which does not meet the published definition of research for the purposes of this assessment. 2