Universities and colleges are gearing up for higher education's most controversial competition, the Research Assessment Exercise.
As the "census" date for research staff transfers passed and the end-of-April deadline for submissions loomed, institutions were this week beginning to put the finishing touches to their bids for top research quality status and associated funding rewards.
Soon hundreds of computer discs holding the vital statistics of research activity over the past four years in institutions throughout the United Kingdom will descend on the Bristol headquarters of the Higher Education Funding Council for England, which has the job of processing all the information.
They will be accompanied by printed copies, used to check the data. But the use of new technology is expected to streamline the operation significantly, compared with the 1992 RAE when multiple hard copies packed a warehouse.
Paul Hubbard, RAE manager on behalf of the UK's four higher education funding bodies, is also hoping lessons learned from the last exercise will help this year's to run smoothly. Unpopular total publication counts have been dropped and institutions notified well in advance of the criteria and working methods used by the 60 RAE panels. The only hitch so far has been the occasional problem with software issued by the funding councils to help institutions cope with the exercise. "The problems were mostly associated with the great diversity of hardware out there in the sector," Mr Hubbard said.
Once the funding council has processed submissions they will be scrutinised by panels which will meet from early June to November and are expected to make decisions by Christmas. The results should be published early in the New Year.