Who is Number One at Christmas?

December 18th, 2008 by John

The excitement I remember when I was young as we awaited the announcement of the Christmas singles chart has been easily surpassed this year on university campuses. The RAE results are published today, and the general mood in UK HE seems to be one of celebration. David Eastwood, Chief Executive of the Higher Education Council for England, writing in the Times Higher says:

Amid the excitement of celebrating local achievements, we should not lose sight of an important story of national success: we enjoy the benefits of a well-established research base that stands among the world leaders in major disciplines. Statistics may be dulled by repetition, but for a country of our size to hold second place globally to the US in significant subject fields is no mean achievement, and we should not apologise for returning regularly to this leitmotiv.

Although the results this time were presented according to subject profiles, the Times Higher, like other newspapers, immediately compiled a league table based on a Grade-Point Average approach. Their Top 10 is as follows:

1 Institute of Cancer Research
2 University of Cambridge
3 London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine
4 London School of Economics and Political Science
=4 University of Oxford
6 Imperial College London
7 University College London
8 University of Manchester
9 University of Warwick
10 University of York

The Institute of Cancer Research and the LondonSchool of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine score very highly in a very few disciplines, and their specialisation allows them to take 1st and 3rd spots in the table. It is good to see six of our UK Partner institutions in the top 10. The University of York emerges as the leading 1994 Group institution (small, research-intensive universities).

Looking at our other Partners, Edinburgh climbs four places to 12th; Leeds jumps 12 places to 14th; SOAS drops one place to 31st; Glasgow drops four to 33rd; Aberdeen rises nine places to 38th; and Liverpool climbs one to 40th.

In Scotland, the ranking within the top 50 emerges as Edinburgh, followed by St Andrews, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Dundee, Heriot-Watt and Strathclyde. Scotland’s experiment in cross-university research collaboration also appears to have been vindicated. The Herald reports that:

As a result of weak performance in a number of subject areas in the 2001 RAE, the Scottish Funding Council has been instrumental in setting up so-called research pools, where departments from different universities work together.

Research pooling is based on the simple concept that, working in isolation, researchers can end up competing with each other, whereas together they can become an international force.

The first research pools were in the disciplines of economics, physics, chemistry, nursing, midwifery, allied health professions and some areas of engineering. The amount of research in all of these areas has significantly improved.

In particular, EaStChem, a chemistry collaboration between Edinburgh and St Andrews, emerges as one of the UK’s top five Chemistry schools.

This was the sixth and final RAE. The libraries of all of these universities will now be readying themselves to contribute within improved systems of research information management which universities are developing for the REF (Research Excellence Framework) which will now replace it. As they do so, they might glance with some puzzlement at the league table for library and information schools. It puts Sheffield at the top, and King’s College London in 2nd place. King’s College has no library or information school, but was permitted to enter its Centre for Computing in the Humanities in the Library & Information Management category. Below King’s come UCL, Wolverhampton, City University and The Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen. Loughborough sits in a surprising 9th position.

And not everyone is quoting the Times Higher. An alternative Power Table is produced by the international researcher publication ResearchResearch, which uses a different formula for its rankings. It puts Oxford ahead of Cambridge, and insists that the top 6 positions are unchanged from 2001 (Oxford, Cambridge, UCL, Manchester, Edinburgh and Imperial). The quibbling starts now.

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One Response to “Who is Number One at Christmas?”

  1. hangingtogether.org » Blog Archive » Bitter fruits of the RAE? Says:

    [...] December I posted an entry about the results of the Research Assessment Exercise in the UK. Today comes the news that the [...]