I sometimes forget that my American correspondents don’t know about this little box of delights, and have been asked this question more than once after referring to it in the course of an email.
The RAE, for those who don’t know, is the Research Assessment Exercise: “a series of exercises conducted nationally to assess the quality of UK research and to inform the selective distribution of public funds for research by the four UK higher education funding bodies”. Think of the stress levels involved in getting tenure, and then consider that every department in every UK university is doing it at the same time. (Repeatedly.) And a lot of money is at stake.
The ‘rules’ for the upcoming 2008 exercise (actually, the ‘census’ is in 2007) will be published shortly, and there’s a good piece in the Guardian education section this week (and more here). There are noises that this one could be the last. Well, maybe. But even if it is, there will have to be some kind of bean-counting exercise to replace it, so I’m not getting my hopes up.