Thursday, 18 December 2008

The official verdict on UK psychology research

The results of the latest Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) are in, and they show that 11 per cent of the UK's psychological research, as submitted by 76 universities, was judged to be of the highest 'world leading' 4* standard.

The results of the RAE, the last of which was in 2001, are a sensitive issue because they affect how much research funding departments will receive in the future from funding bodies – with higher rated institutions due to be awarded more money.

The Universities of Oxford and Cambridge had the highest proportion (35 per cent) of psychological research awarded the 'world leading' grade. Not far behind, 30 per cent of psychology research at UCL received this grade, as did 25 per cent of research at Birmingham, Birkbeck and Cardiff.

Considering the top two grades – 4* 'world leading' and '3* 'internationally excellent' – 45 per cent of psychology research at UK institutions achieved this level. The University of Cambridge had the highest proportion (85 per cent) graded in these top two categories. The Universities of Oxford and Birmingham followed with 80 per cent, UCL at 75 per cent, and Birkbeck, Cardiff and Royal Holloway with 70 per cent.

The results should be interpreted with caution given that the exercise allowed institutions to choose how many of their staff to submit to scrutiny. For example, the University of Cambridge submitted 24 psychology researchers to the exercise compared with Cardiff University's submission of 59 – the highest number for a single psychology department. How to interpret these figures is not clear, however, because the RAE haven't published the proportion of eligible staff who were submitted from each department.

It should also be noted that clinical psychology had the option of being assessed separately from the rest of psychology, in a grouping with psychiatry and neuroscience. Just 17 institutions submitted research to the exercise under this subject heading, with the University of Cambridge having the most research rated as 'world leading' (40 per cent), and the equal highest amount of research (80 per cent) rated as either 'world leading' or 'internationally excellent', with Cardiff University also achieving this proportion. Across all institutions, 57 per cent of research in this area was judged to be of 'world leading' or 'internationally excellent' standard.

Note: all cited department gradings are based on non-weighted means available on the RAE website.

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

Link to RAE website.
Link to RAE results for psychology.
Link to RAE results for clinical psychology.

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