The new snakes and ladders: RAE 2008 and the Scottish law schools

Academic lawyers in Scotland have a new party game this Christmas as they try to work out law school research league tables from the results of the Research Assessment Exercise, published on 18 December 2008.

The exercise, under which each unit of assessment (UoA) submitted to a panel of other academics what it believed to be its best research outputs in the period 2002-2007, leads to a Research Quality Profile for the unit, indicating how many of its staff were submitted, and the percentage of the work submitted that fell into each of five classifications as follows:

4* – world-leading; 3* – internationally excellent; 2* – recognised internationally; 1* – recognised nationally; U/C – unclassified.  With staff numbers factored in, this can be averaged to produce a grade point average (GPA) for each UoA. 

The Scottish law school results look like this, arranged alphabetically (apologies for the wobbly columns, induced by lack of a table function in the processor rather than by over-consumption of Christmas cheer by the setter):

UoA             Staff       4*   3*   2*   1*   U/C    GPA
Aberdeen    35.70     5    30   45   20      0      2.20
Abertay        3.00      0    20   60   20      0      2.00
Dundee       27.00     5    45   50    0       0      2.55
Edinburgh   48.74   30    25   35   10      0      2.75
Glasgow      37.95   15    40   35   10     0      2.60
Glas Cal         4.50     0    15   30   45   10      1.50
Napier           6.00     0      5   20   55    20     1.10
RGU               9.60     0      5   50   35    10     1.50
Stirling           7.00     5    35   30   30     0      2.15
Strathclyde  20.50   20   40   25   15     0      2.65
UWS              2.50     0      0   15   75   10      1.05

So who has the best claim to be top research dog this time round?  Does it matter most how much world-leading research you have, or do you combine that with international excellence?  How much is that to be offset by the percentages in the lower grades?  How do you factor in the number of staff and outputs submitted?  Does the grade point average weighted as it is for numbers of staff and outputs bring all the relevant factors into play most effectively?   

For Scots Law News the most impressive performance is Stirling’s: a unit which did not exist when the last RAE was conducted in 2001 but which in 70% of the research it submitted from seven staff at the end of 2007 is already performing at a level of international quality. 

Why does any of it matter apart from bragging rights?  Answer: public funding for the next few years will depend on the outcomes.  But none of it has anything to do with the quality of the teaching.

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