Cambridge is top university for research: History don resigns from panel over treatment of Oxford as first ratings to include former polytechnics are published

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The Independent Online
CAMBRIDGE University is the best for research and easily beats its old rival Oxford into second place, with University College, London, coming third, according to ratings published yesterday.

The ratings, published by the Universities Funding Council, will be used to decide how to allocate about pounds 650m of research money. University departments have been given a score of between one and five. The top mark of five, showing international excellence in research, has been achieved by 40 departments at Cambridge. But Oxford, which came top the last time research was ranked, in 1989, is well below Cambridge with 28 top scores of five. University College, London, scores 22 fives, with many fours.

Last night the scores were surrounded by controversy as Professor Lord Russell told the Independent that he had resigned from the history panel because Oxford had only been given a research rating of four. Cambridge, the LSE, Birkbeck, King's and Birmingham all received the top mark of five. The Oxford history department is the biggest in the country with more than 100 full-time staff.

Lord Russell, Professor of British History at King's College, London, said: 'The proportion of excellence which they were requiring of Oxford was a lot higher than they were requiring at other institutions. They said there was not enough publication. If the standard that was applied to Oxford were applied nationally, it would require an amount of publication which we could only meet by publishing rubbish.'

Professor Graeme Davies, chief executive of the Universities Funding Council, said the history panel had given the matter serious discussion. There had been a vote and Lord Russell had been the only dissenting voice.

Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine does well with 12 top scores of five. Warwick University, much smaller than many of the big civic universities, performs highly with 11. Also scoring 11 are King's College, London, Edinburgh and Nottingham. The LSE, Manchester and Birmingham score 10.

The size of an institution may affect its score as bigger universities will have a greater spread of departments. For the first time the former polytechnics are being assessed alongside the 'old' universities. Only one polytechnic department received the top score of five: the University of Westminster - formerly the Polytechnic of Central London - for Communication and Media Studies.

Professor Davies said the results showed 'many pockets of high quality research effort' in the 'new' universities and colleges. Most - nearly 300 - departments in the 'new' universities or former polytechnics scored a two, about 250 scored a one, about 60 scored a three, and 12 scored a four. For the 'old' universities, about 325 departments got the maximum five, just over 500 scored a four, about 675 got a three, 250 got a two and about 20 got a one.

Departments which received a one are unlikely to get funding for research next year. Professor Davies said of these low-scoring departments: 'The policy of a thin layer of jam is not conducive to nurturing the strongest areas of research.' It would be up to universities to decide whether to reduce or cease research activity.