The results of this year's research assessment exercise should be revealed before the end of the year, rather than early next year as planned, say funding council chiefs.
The 61 panels, which are poring over 2,895 submissions from institutions across England, are expected to have compiled ratings in 69 subject divisions by November 30. These will be published by the Higher Education Funding Council for England a week or two later. The quick turnaround is forecast despite a "significant" number of corrections that have had to be made to data submitted to the funding council.
Paul Hubbard, HEFCE's research assessment manager, said that although corrections had been necessary, they were not so serious as to cast doubt on the overall accuracy of the information sent to the panels. He said: "It is not nearly as bad as the last research assessment exercise, when we had to correct a lot of what had been sent to the panels. This time we are satisfied that the information sent to them is as good as we can get it."
The panels are looking at numbers of research active staff, samples of publications they have produced, numbers of research students, research studentships available, income earned and plans.
Their conclusions, based on this information, will be guided by their own published assessment criteria. Each panel places a different weighting on the various elements considered, depending on which it considers to be the most important for the subject area.
The funding council is conducting an audit of the information supplied, doing spot checks on research income, publications and numbers of research-active staff, of which there are now meant to be 55,700, according to the submissions.
"On the whole, the standard of the returns this time round seems to have been very high," Mr Hubbard said.