We've read a lot of nonsense about the implications of the research assesment exercise 2008 (much from a rent-a-quote vice-chancellor), including frequent reference to a wider spread of funding and a much-vaunted revelation of "pockets of excellence" (does this mean international excellence?).
My subject area will probably see some funding for all 49 submissions. It is difficult to compare 2008 with 2001, but there were 55 submissions then, with 47 funded. Of the eight (grade 2) submissions that received no funding, four did not submit in 2008.
That all submissions in 2008 should receive some funding is probably partly because some institutions lacking "pockets of excellence" in 2001 did not submit to RAE 2008; others invested wisely and will be funded after 2008.
Subtle differences between the 2001 and 2008 criteria are also a source of confusion, but the grade definitions in 2001 clearly recognised "pockets of excellence". Grade 3a "equate(d) to attainable levels of national excellence in over two thirds of the research activity submitted, possibly showing evidence of international excellence" (pockets, indeed), and grade 3b required "attainable levels of national excellence in more than half of the research activity submitted" (which may allow pockets of internationally-recognised work, as graded 2* and funded in 2008).
Pockets of excellence that warranted funding existed and were funded in 2001, just as in 2008. This is not to say that the profiles produced in 2008 are not preferable to the single grades that preceded them. It does mean, however, that it is wrong to imply that they show for the first time the existence of "pockets of excellence".
Keith Richards, Chair, sub-panel H32, RAE 2008, University of Cambridge.