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Imperial a Hotbed of World-Class Research

Dec 18 2008 00:01
Ashley Brown
The 2008 Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) has found Imperial to have the highest concentration of staff whose research is globally important of all multi-faculty universities in the UK.
Civil Engineering is the top research area

Today sees the release of the results of the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise (RAE), which assesses the quality of research at all of the UK's universities on a scale from 4* down to 1*.

...continued excellence must be recognised and rewarded. Universities like Imperial College that have consistently performed at the highest levels, and submitted a very high proportion of its staff, must receive substantial support.
Sir Roy Anderson, Rector of Imperial College

Imperial has emerged as a hotbed of world-class research, with 73% of staff having their research rated as "world-leading" (4*) or "internationally excellent" (3*). Imperial submitted 93% of its staff to the RAE, a total of 1,225 researchers. Some universities have been criticised in the past for finding ways to keep weaker researchers out of the exercise, however plans to identify those doing it had to be dropped.

Imperial's results in the RAE 2008, sorted by 4* then 3* ratings (click to enlarge)

Civil Engineering tops Imperial's results, with 40% of research at 4* and 55% at 3*, making a massive 95% of their research internationally significant. The areas of Pure Mathematics, History, and Epidemiology and Public Health also achieved 40% of research at 4* - yes, that's right, History is in there. Imperial's Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine has shown its research to be world-leading, although only five full-time equivalent were submitted for assessment due to its small size. Computing and the Business School both had 35% of research rated 4*, with a further 50% at 3*. Metallurgy and Materials is the only research area to fall below 55% of research being world-leading or excellent - although the areas of Cancer Studies and Psychiatry, Neuroscience and Clinical Psychology have less research rated 4*, they have over 50% rated 3* which is still internationally excellent. A table of results is available by clicking the attached image.

The results are produced in such a way that direct comparison between institutions on a general level is not a sensible thing to do, however the Guardian has tried anyway, producing an 'Average Ranking' by which to order them. The full outcome from the RAE can be downloaded from the box on the right - the RAE website was falling over under the load when the results were first released but we managed to get hold of a copy. More details of Imperial's results can be found on their RAE website.

As well as praising the efforts of researchers, Imperial's Rector, Sir Roy Anderson, said:

"Today's results demonstrate again the value of selective funding, where resources flow to the highest quality research areas. The fact that the UK has four universities judged to be in the world's top 10 is no accident. The UK's top universities already punch well beyond their weight. Only by investing in this excellence will the UK maintain a globally competitive edge."

"Therefore continued excellence must be recognised and rewarded. Universities like Imperial College that have consistently performed at the highest levels, and submitted a very high proportion of its staff, must receive substantial support."

Subject League Tables

To generate these tables, we ordered the institutions first by the percentage of 4* research, then 3*, then 2* etc. Institutions which are 'tied' for a place have the same scores at 2* and 1*, even if those figures are not shown. These are not official tables, just our rough stab at it - lets face it, it can't be that much worse than the Guardian's attempt. Raw data is available from the RAE website.

Bioengineering and Earth Science and Engineering are not included, as they fell under a category of "General Engineering and Mineral & Mining Engineering". There's a treat for the RSM at the end though!

Civil Engineering

  1. Imperial College London (40% 4*, 55% 3*)
  2. Swansea University (35%, 60%)
  3. Cardiff University (25%, 65%)

Chemical Engineering

  1. Imperial College London, University of Cambridge (30%, 55%)
  2. University of Manchester (25%, 60%)

Mechanical, Aeronautical and Manufacturing Engineering

  1. Imperial College London (30%, 50%)
  2. University of Sheffield (30%, 45%)
  3. University of Greenwich (30%, 40%)*

* Only 5.5 full-time equivalent staff

Pure Maths

  1. Imperial College London (40%, 45%)
  2. University of Warwick (35%, 45%)
  3. University of Oxford (35%, 40%)

Applied Maths

  1. University of Cambridge, University of Oxford (30%, 45%)
  2. University of Warwick (30%, 30%)
  3. University of Bristol (25%, 45%)
  4. University of St Andrews (25%, 45%)
  5. University of Manchester (25%, 35%)
  6. University of Bath (20%, 50%)
  7. Imperial College London (20%, 45%)


  1. University of Cambridge (45%, 45%)
  2. Imperial College London, University of Southampton, University of Edinburgh (35%, 50%)

Business and Management Studies

  1. London Business School (55%, 30%)
  2. Imperial College London (35%, 50%)
  3. University of Cambridge (35%, 40%)


  1. University of Cambridge (40%, 40%)
  2. University of Nottingham (30%, 55%)
  3. Uni. Edinburgh & Uni. St Andrews (30%, 40%)
  4. University of Bristol (25%, 50%)*
  5. Imperial College London (20%, 55%)*

* this shows why rankings are subjective - Bristol and Imperial both have more 3* and 4* research than the combined Edinburgh/St Andrews submission, but our ranking scheme puts them behind.


  1. University of Leeds (30%, 50%)
  2. University of Surrey (30%, 40%)
  3. Bangor University (30%, 40%)*
  4. University of Manchester (25%, 45%)
  5. Sheffield - Automatic Control and Systems Engineering, University of Southampton (25%, 40%)
  6. University College London (25%, 35%)
  7. University of Bath (25%, 35%)
  8. Imperial College London (20%, 55%)+

* Small department

+ Ordering by 3* and above would place Imperial in second


  1. Lancaster University (25%, 45%)
  2. University of Cambridge, University of Nottingham, University of St Andrews (25%, 40%)
  3. University of Bath (20%, 50%)
  4. University of Edinburgh (20%, 45%)
  5. Imperial College London (20%, 45%)

Metallurgy and Materials

  1. University of Cambridge (40%, 55%)
  2. University of Liverpool (35%, 35%)
  3. University of Kent (25%, 55%)
  4. University of Oxford (25%, 55%)
  5. University of Manchester (20%, 60%)
  6. Imperial College London (20%, 35%)


  1. Imperial College London (40%, 40%)*
  2. University of Cambridge, UCL (40%, 25%)

* This isn't really a sensible listing, as only 5 staff were assessed and the area of research is narrow.


  1. Imperial College London ESE ["Royal School of Mines"] (25%, 45%)
  2. Camborne School of Mines (5%, 30%)

Camborne also had 25% of their research rated as 1* and 5% not classified at all.

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Discussion about “Imperial a Hotbed of World-Class Research”

The comments below are unmoderated submissions by Live! readers. The Editor accepts no liability for their content, nor for any offence caused by them. Any complaints should be directed to the Editor.
Dec 18 2008 08:37

IC fell way below the top institutions when it came to 4* 'Wold-Leading' research though.

Anybody care to hazzard a guess as to why this is?

Dec 18 2008 08:59

Useful THES table using GPA:

Ignoring specialist institutions Imperial is down to 4th, from 2nd in 2001.

Dec 18 2008 09:18

"Anybody care to hazzard a guess as to why this is?"

Because we don't have high 4* scores in Classics, Law, English etc to boost our overall rankings?

Dec 18 2008 09:46

"Computing and the Business School both had 35% of research rated 4*, with a further 50% at 5*."

I think you meant 3*, Ash? Also...

"The fact that the UK has four universities judged to be in the world's top 10* is no accident."

Maybe lose the * in there.

Change it, quick. ;-) Hope you have a really good Christmas.

Dec 18 2008 14:33

@ engineer.

Not really an issue. If you look at just science and engineerign subjects you get a similar picture. If we just look at percentage at 4*:


Cambridge: 42%; Imperial 30%


Cambridge 28%; Imperial 23%

Clinical Subjects:

Cambridge 37%; Imperial 25%

Across the board Imperial is internationally excellent, but not as "World Leading" as you would like to think.

6. miner   
Dec 18 2008 17:44

statistical evidence that camborne are sh*t..... not that it was needed......

Dec 19 2008 11:07

It just gets worse for Imperial. Using the product of the GPA and FTE staff submitted to RAE2008 gives you a rough and ready 'research excellence volume' measure. Here's the top ten:

University of Oxford - 6,646

University of Cambridge - 6,070

University of Manchester - 5,150

University College London - 5,098

University of Nottingham - 3,713

Imperial College - 3,603

University of Leeds - 3,448

University of Sheffield - 3,270

University of Bristol - 3,264

King's College London - 3,156

Obviosuly this includes all subjects - keep your eyes peeled for infor on Science, Techology and Medicine.

Dec 22 2008 11:17

Question for RAE Hack

Er....? Using the "Product of the GPA and FTE"? Doesn't that mean, an excellent researcher can potentially score lower than many rubbish researchers, so long as there are seriously many pointless and rubbish researchers?

Very insightful huh?

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