Research assessment and the activity hypothesis

Peter Lansley (School of Construction Management and Engineering, The University of Reading, Reading, UK)

Engineering, Construction and Architectural Management

ISSN: 0969-9988

Publication date: 4 January 2013



Analyses of the results of research assessment exercises (RAEs) carried out in the UK in 1996 and 2001 supported a simple hypothesis, that the grade awarded to a university department can be related to its level of activity in terms of, for example, number of research students, research studentships secured, research degrees awarded, research funded from external sources, and the profile of publications. The purpose of this paper is to consider the extent to which these relationships prevailed for the most recent RAE in 2008.


Information from 157 departments from five subject areas was subjected to extensive correlation analysis and regression modelling, informed by the findings from analyses of previous RAEs.


Although the information submitted by universities to RAE 2008 was the same as for previous RAEs, a different methodology was employed for assessing their performance. Establishing a relationship between the assessments of research quality of departments and measures of activity was more challenging than previously. Differences between subject areas were large and it was not possible to develop a single model applicable to the five subject areas.

Practical implications

Despite the relationship with performance being much less obvious than for previous RAEs, activity levels are important to success, but in different ways in different subject areas.


The paper indicates the extent to which expectations about the importance of key research‐related activities, expressed as simple quantitative measures, are reflected in qualitative assessments of performance, given the increasing complexity and subtlety of the assessment process.



Lansley, P. (2013), "Research assessment and the activity hypothesis", Engineering, Construction and Architectural Management, Vol. 20 No. 1, pp. 7-28.

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