Geography Research At The Open University Earns Maximum Grade

December 17, 2001

The Department of Geography at the Open University has been assessed as being an international leader in delivering world-class research. Its maximum 5* rating in the nationwide Research Assessment Exercise 2001, whose results were announced today, shows that more than half of its research is “internationally excellent” and the remainder is of “national excellence”.

The RAE 2001 figures show that 25 of the 26 Open University subject areas whose research work was assessed are rated as achieving “levels of national excellence” or better. Ten of the 26 areas saw their research standing improve, while a further 11 saw their standing unchanged since the last Research Assessment Exercise in 1996.

Of the 562 Open University staff members whose research was submitted for assessment, 95 per cent of them work in subject areas that were rated as being predominantly of national excellence or better, compared to 76 per cent of those assessed in 1996.

The RAE results come in the wake of other recent assessments that put the Open University among the top UK universities for teaching quality. Seventeen of 23 subject areas assessed are rated as “excellent” by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education.

In the RAE, the university’s subject areas of Art and Design, Earth Sciences and Art History all achieved a rating of 5 – showing that up to half of their research is of international excellence and virtually all the rest is of national excellence. A further 12 university subject areas were awarded a rating of 4 – showing that nearly all their research is of national excellence; some show evidence of international excellence.

Professor Alan Bassindale, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research and Staff), said of the results: “I am pleased that research at the Open University has been consolidated in the latest Research Assessment Exercise, and am delighted that we have attained in Geography our first 5* rating. The Geography result is outstanding. Almost everybody entered in the RAE has been judged to be nationally excellent in their research, and there is substantial evidence of international excellence.

“I extend my warmest congratulations to English, Psychology, Pure Mathematics and Geography for the significant improvement they have shown in the quality of their research, and to Art and Design, Earth Sciences (including Planetary Sciences), History of Art, Architecture and Design who have maintained their 5 rating. Unfortunately it is not all good news, particularly the loss of three of our previously 5-rated subjects, all of which dropped a grade. I am especially surprised and disappointed about the outcome for Educational Technology.

“Overall, I am pleased that, owing to the growth of the university, we were able to submit 21 per cent more staff than we did in 1996 and that RAE 2001 has demonstrated a real increase in research activity in the university.”

And Doreen Massey, Professor of Geography at the university, said: “We are very pleased with this grading. We have a very collaborative and active research culture in Geography at the university. The result demonstrates that there need be no trade-off between open access to higher education and international excellence in research.”

The Research Assessment Exercise, which takes place every four or five years, assesses the quality of research in all higher education institutions in the UK through a process of peer review. The results are used to allocate about £1billion each year for research. The exercise rates university departments across the UK on a scale from 1 (lowest rating) to 5* (highest rating), with rating 3 split into rating 3a (higher) and 3b (lower). All disciplines within the Open University are actively involved in research and the university receives almost £18million a year for research in funding from the Higher Education Funding Council for England and other sources.


Neil Coaten

Open University Media Relations

01908 652580

Gary Spink

Open University Media Relations

01908 653343