The number of academics whose work has been submitted for the research assessment exercise has increased by nearly 6,000 compared with the last exercise in 2001, figures from the Higher Education Funding Council for England show.
Hefce confirmed this week that 52,472 full-time equivalent research staff were submitted for the 2008 RAE compared with 46,678 returned in 2001 - an increase of 12 per cent. It said the fact that more academics were returned demonstrated "both the breadth and depth of UK research".
But it is not possible to determine from the figures whether vice-chancellors have been more or less brutal in selecting which staff to exclude from the exercise, since no comparable figure for the total number of eligible staff was collected this year.
While the 2001 Hefce figures indicate there were about 80,000 research active staff in total - leading to a selection rate of about 60 per cent - Hefce decided for the 2008 RAE not to collect data on the number of research-active staff who were not being submitted.
Figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency show that there were 104,535 full-time and 20,440 part-time research-active staff in universities in 2006-07. This would bring the proportion of research-active staff submitted for the 2008 RAE to about 46 per cent, making the exercise much more selective than 2001. But Hefce and Hesa are both keen to point out that their data are collected differently and are not directly comparable.
Explaining the decision not to collect comparable data, a Hefce spokesman said: "It is not relevant to the purpose of the RAE, which is to drive funding allocations for research." Asking institutions to supply data that was not necessary added to their burden, which Hefce wanted to minimise, he said.
Figures for the number of categories or units of assessment into which 159 higher education institutions submitted for this RAE suggest that submissions were more selective as they were concentrated in fewer areas. The number of categories dropped by 235, from 2,598 in 2001 to 2,363 in 2008.
Based on information from a selection of universities, Times Higher Education reported last year on a strong trend among teaching-led universities to exclude more staff from the 2008 RAE than in 2001, while the figure from research- intensive universities appeared not to vary dramatically.
In the most extreme cases, the University of Chichester submitted work by just 18.5 per cent of its academics, compared with 60 per cent in 2001; Keele University was down from 80 per cent to 50 per cent; the University of Derby was down from 31 per cent to 9 per cent; and Oxford Brookes University estimated a drop from 41 per cent to 33 per cent.
Concern about exclusions was so high among some staff that Vic Truesdale, a professor of biogeochemistry at Oxford Brookes, set up a "castaway" online support group to encourage rejected academics to share their stories.
RAE 2008 LATEST
Submissions have been received from 159 eligible higher education institutions.
52,472 full-time equivalent research-active staff were submitted for RAE 2008, compared with 46,678 in 2001.
The number of academics whose work was submitted in 2008 is 12 per cent larger than the 2001 figure.
Work was submitted in 2,363 individual units of assessment, or categories, in 2008, compared with 2,598 units in 2001.
There was a 9 per cent drop in the number of units of assessment into which universities submitted work.