Higher Education

, Volume 48, Issue 4, pp 461-482

First online:

The research assessment exercise in English universities, 2001

  • K.J. MorganAffiliated withCenter for Studies of Higher Education, Nagoya University

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At intervals of 3–4 years, researchquality in English universities has beenexternally reviewed 5 times over the past 16years. Assessment is based on peer-review ofmaterial submitted by universities to 70separate subject panels. The principalcomponent is information on research output,usually publications, from all academic staffidentified as ``research active''. Researchquality is rated on a numerical (1–5*),criteria-based scale. Ratings in all subjectareas and across all universities haveincreased to give an average rating in 2001corresponding to a level of ``attainablenational excellence''. Between universitiesthere are significant variations. In theprestigious Loxbridge group, where almost allacademic staff are research-active, 90% ofsubject areas achieved ratings at level 5 in2001; in contrast, in the New universities,where only 40% of academic staff isresearch-active, level 5 was achieved in 7% ofsubject areas. A combination of high researchquality and high cost research (medicine,science, engineering) concentrated in the Olduniversities is similarly evident in thedistribution of research funding. Income fromboth research subsidy and research grants andcontracts is divided: Old universities, 94%(Loxbridge, 35%), New universities, 6%. High institutional costs of the assessmentprocess, particularly for areas of low-costresearch, and increasing concern about theinadequacies of the rating system and failureof its direct link to funding suggest thatsubstantial revision will be needed for futureassessment exercises.