Medicine takes two of top three places in research assessment exercise

BMJ 2008; 337 doi: (Published 23 December 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a3121
  1. Geoff Watts
  1. 1London

    An unofficial ranking of the results of the 2008 research assessment exercise has allocated two of the top three places to medical research institutions. Heading the list of 132 UK higher education bodies is the Institute of Cancer Research. In third place is the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

    The analysis, which was commissioned by the Times Higher Education and is in its issue of 18/25 December, was greeted with delight by both institutions.

    “It’s the result of many years of hard work in fostering methodological rigour, supporting junior staff in achieving excellence, and publishing in high impact journals,” said Andrew Haines, director of the School of Hygiene. “It shows that among our peers, nationally and internationally, the quality of our work is rated very highly.”

    Speaking for the Institute of Cancer Research, the chief executive, Peter Rigby, said that to have moved up from its previous ranking at number five to the top position was a tribute to his colleagues, and to the way the institute is organised. “We’re small and totally focussed. And we benefit enormously from our relationship with the Royal Marsden Hospital. This allows us to translate the basic science into patient benefit in an extremely efficient way.”

    Professor Haines shares that belief in the importance of putting academic findings to practical use. “The new ranking is useful in raising our profile with prospective students,” he added. “We’re a postgraduate institution so we need to attract people wanting to do masters and doctoral degrees.”

    Professor Rigby too is aware of the list’s value in recruitment. “Scientists like to work in an environment where there are lots of other bright people around . . . It will help us a lot when we go out to recruit in what’s an extremely competitive market.”

    The research assessment exercise, conducted for the Higher Education Funding Council for England, was originally intended to check that standards of research in the United Kingdom were being maintained and improved. It has since become the key factor in allocating research funds. Universities have more to lose than prestige if their assessment declines.

    The previous assessment, published in 2001, rated each submission using a single figure on a scale of 1 to 5. A change of one point could have drastic effects on the research money available to a department. The current system is more subtle. It relies instead on “quality profiles,” which show the proportions of research activity in each submission classified as 1 (recognised nationally) to 4 (world leading).

    The Times Higher Education compiles its league table by averaging the quality profiles of each institution’s individual assessments and ranking them.

    The exercise employed 1000 reviewers, mainly academics, sitting on 15 panels and 67 subpanels to review 200 000 pieces of research work. But future assessments will rely less on peer review than on statistical indicators or metrics.

    The top 10 institutions in the Times Higher Education’s table of excellence were: Institute of Cancer Research, University of Cambridge, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London School of Economics and Political Science, University of Oxford, Imperial College London, University College London, University of Manchester, University of Warwick and University of York.


    Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a3121