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Evidence highlighted by University Alliance proves that research excellence is not determined by volume alone

University Alliance has today published its first report ‘Concentration and Diversity: understanding the relationship between excellence, concentration and critical mass in UK research’. Commenting on the report Director of University Alliance, Libby Aston, said:

“Future policy on research concentration has seemed a little uncertain since RAE 2008 results demonstrated that peaks of world-leading research excellence were distributed more widely than had been anticipated.  The evidence, however, remains very clear:

  • selectivity not concentration has driven excellence in UK research;
  • excellence is not determined by volume alone; and
  • it is the peaks of world-leading research excellence that determine the position of the UK as a world leader.

“We are not calling for radical change – quite the opposite in fact.  We are urging the Government to maintain a consistent, evidence-based approach by continuing to selectively fund research based on excellence alone.”

“In a difficult fiscal environment it is essential that these existing principles are maintained because they have ‘enabled the Government and funding bodies to maximise the return from the limited public funds available for …research’.” (1)

Expanding on the main conclusions of the report, Libby Aston said:

“A policy of selectivity – funding research based on quality – has driven up the quality of UK research since the introduction of the RAE, not concentration.  Selectivity has resulted in concentration of research funding where quality exists. This is fully supported by University Alliance.

“The distribution of excellence seen in RAE 2008 has recently been confirmed through analysis undertaken by Evidence Ltd, published by HEPI. (2) The research showed that the sector as a whole has a higher percentage of ‘highly cited papers’ than the major research-intensive Russell Group universities (excluding ‘Golden Triangle’ institutions).

“Previous research has shown that there is no direct correlation between volume and excellence outside some of the physical sciences. The relationship between volume and excellence varies by discipline but it is proven that small units can be effective in subjects such as engineering and the social sciences.  The same research proves that in subjects such as maths and arts and humanities, single researchers can undertake world-leading research with significant impact.” (3)

“Furthermore, in the small number of science-based disciplines where there is a correlation between volume and quality, research found that there is no identifiable ‘threshold’ or ‘critical mass’ and volume is ‘evidently not the only factor’.” (1)

Commenting on the value for money of public investment in research, Professor Janet Beer, Vice Chancellor of Oxford Brookes University and Chair of the Alliance, said:

“The economic and social impact of research is related to quality – not necessarily volume. The case studies we have highlighted demonstrate that Alliance institutions are business-like universities which are adept at using their research income strategically.

“Furthermore, a strong research culture is vital for research-informed teaching, which is the essence of an enquiry-led, academic learning environment that delivers the graduate-level skills needed for the economy.”

End

Notes for Editors

(1) HEFCE Fundamental Review of Research Policy and Funding: Final Report of sub-group to consider the role of selectivity and the characteristics of excellence.

(2) http://www.hepi.ac.uk/455-1748/Oxford-and-Cambridge—how-different-are-they.html

(3) Three broad categories were identified by experts at the University of Leeds for the HEFCE Fundamental Review of Research Policy and Funding:

  • high impact at high volume (where volume is related to impact, for example the clinical sciences)
  • higher impact at high volume (where small units can be effective, for example in engineering and social sciences)
  • no clear pattern (where the ‘lone researcher’ can produce excellent research with high impact, for example in mathematics, arts and humanities)

About University Alliance

Established in 2006, University Alliance represents 22 universities at the heart of the sector that are both research-engaged and business-focussed. Alliance universities are actively engaged in their economic and social environments with close links to the professions, new industries and a deep-rooted commitment to access through flexible provision. Alliance universities educate 26% of all UK students and have high graduate employment rates, offering a research-informed learning environment and equipping graduates for the 21st century.

Members of University Alliance

Aberystwyth University, Bournemouth University, University of Bradford, De Montfort University, University of Glamorgan, University of Gloucestershire, University of Hertfordshire, University of Huddersfield, University of Lincoln, Liverpool John Moores University, Manchester Metropolitan University, Northumbria University, Nottingham Trent University, Open University, Oxford Brookes University, University of Plymouth, University of Portsmouth, University of Salford, Sheffield Hallam University, University of Wales Institute, Cardiff, University of Wales, Newport, University of the West of England.

For further information, please contact:

Communications Team, Oxford Brookes University on 01865 484454

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