Researchers were asked this week to comment on the criteria and working methods for the next research assessment exercise, due for 2001.
"There has never been a consultation at this stage before. I hope that it will be of value to institutions and that it will help to build confidence in the exercise," said John Rogers, who manages the RAE on behalf of the funding councils.
The document contains a draft statement of the criteria and working methods proposed by each of the 62 panels overseeing a subject area. It describes each unit of assessment, discusses the proposed treatment of evidence in institutions' submissions, gives guidance on the information that they should include, and describes the working methods that panels will use.
However, the funding councils warned that universities should not use the draft statements as a basis for rehearsing performances for the next RAE.
"Higher education institutions should note that these draft statements may change significantly depending on comments received during the consultation process. Accordingly, they do not provide a reliable basis in their current form for the preparation of RAE submissions."
The funding councils use the RAE to assess how much money each university receives for research. Panels of experts assess each of the 62 subject areas every four to five years. The RAE concentrates funding in universities that perform well in the exercise.
The deadline for comments is October 15. Panels will finalise the criteria and working methods in November and the funding councils will publish the results by the end of the year.