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Graded profiles make finer assessments

Hertfordshire’s performance in the RAE 2008 is good news and demonstrates that our selective strategy of submitting 14 Units of Assessment was successful. The graded profiles are very pleasing, particularly with six Units of Assessment showing 50 per cent or more internationally excellent and world-leading research (combined 3* and 4* ratings). Graded profiles are a fairer approach, compared with the single quality numerical values of RAE 2001, in the way that they identify the range of research activity in percentage terms over the five categories.

STEM research at Hertfordshire has performed very well with strong outcomes in Physics, Computer Science and Informatics, and General Engineering. The recently established Pharmacy provision also records a very respectable performance. Furthermore, both Nursing and Midwifery, and History show exceptional performances, which pus them towards the top of the university sector.

In these Units of Assessment, Hertfordshire has performed not only better than most of its post-1992 contemporaries but compares favourably with many longer established universities.

More generally, a number of post-1992 universities have shown real improvements in performance in specific Units of Assessment, and it is apparent that the 2008 RAE signals a further breakthrough in research for this sector. The relatively small investment to support research in the non-intensive research universities has resulted in excellent results overall.

Hertfordshire’s strategy over the past seven years has been to focus our somewhat limited resources on developing international excellence in selected research areas. This has not only proved successful but, in combination with the finer tuning in the assessment methodology, it now provide a platform for the university to build further its research profile.

The additional information that will be provided when the sub profiles of the assessment become available to individual universities in January 2009 will be invaluable. It will enable individual Units of Assessment to better understand the rationale for their overall profile, and to more fully identify their strengths and any weaknesses associated with their research activities.

Clearly, this will be particularly important for those Units of Assessments at universities that appear to have under-performed since the RAE 2001.

In addition to receiving our RAE results directly, we have benefited from using the Research Fortnight’s RAE benchmarking software. This has enabled us to assess our position in quality research terms against other universities.

We are delighted to be placed number 53 in a table of 117 universities, which again is indicative of the quality of our submissions in relation to the overall sector. There will, of course, follow a very interesting period of reflection, and a requirement that the funding algorithm applied is fair in its support of quality research wherever it is found. Assuming this is the case, then the RAE 2008 will have set a new benchmark in the assessment of research in the UK.

The challenge for the now delayed Research Excellence Framework will be to surpass this exercise by further enhancing the recognition of cross-disciplinary research and research aligned to societal and economic impact.
John Senior is Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research) and Graham Galbraith is Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the University of Hertfordshire.