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Business and management studies have been confirmed as the most active areas of research in British universities with the publication of the latest and final Research Assessment Exercise.

The results of RAE 2008, published last Thursday, reveal that academics reviewing the work of their peers in business schools and related academic departments across the UK had to plough through the output of more than 3,000 researchers in the field of business and management studies, more than 800 economists, as well as another 300 researchers whose work was submitted under the classifications of accounting and finance or information management.

No other field has come close to producing this volume of research from so many individuals over the seven years since the last RAE in 2001. And the marks awarded are high.

“We were surprised just how much really, really good work there was,” says Mike Pidd of Lancaster University Management School, who chaired the panel assessing business and management research.

The panel decided that London Business School had produced the highest proportion of world-leading research in terms of originality, significance and rigour, awarding 55 per cent of work submitted by LBS, the top quality level – a 4* grade.

The London School of Economics is among institutions to rate highly as business and management studies get top marks for research volume

Cambridge, which includes Judge Business School, Imperial College, London and Cardiff University all managed to achieve the coveted 4* for 35 per cent of their submitted research, making them joint runners up. A higher proportion of Imperial’s research was graded at the next highest level, 3*, which signifies internationally excellent.

In economics and econometrics, the London School of Economics and Political Science received a 4* grade for 60 per cent of submitted work and a 3* grade for 35 per cent, with University College London receiving a 4* for 55 per cent of work and 3* for 40 per cent.

“I was anxious that the results should have validity and resonate with what people thought was going on,” says Prof Pidd, acknowledging the drawbacks of a system based on “hidden exclusions”. The system takes no account of research and staff that institutions choose not to select for submission.

“We were told explicitly only to work with the material we were given, and we don’t know what proportion of staff were submitted,” says Prof Pidd. “But there is no doubt that LBS is ahead of other institutions, however you look at it.”

Four international umpires ensured the scoring of research in business, economics and related areas was not overly generous.

Jim Quick of the Goolsby Leadership Academy at the University of Texas at Arlington was consulted and felt he was in effect used as a guarantor that the process was free of British cosiness. But he warns: “We can’t conclude anything from what we don’t know and the hidden part could well have altered the results, so I would put a question mark over that.”

Another drawback, for users rather than for the universities that made strategic decisions about what to submit, is that the results for business schools or departments cannot be separated from those for the university of which they are a part.

Chris Snowden, vice-chancellor of the University of Surrey, a veteran businessman who speaks on business matters for Universities UK, an umbrella body for higher education, highlighted another flaw. “Expertise is really spread across the sector, whether it’s manufacturing or management, so from the point of view of businesses wanting to work with a university you have to look specifically at what they do. Some universities do not come out well, even though they are doing extremely useful research work with companies.”

But he agrees that the volume of business-related research measured by the RAE is a positive sign for management disciplines.

“We should be pleased that there is a lot of stuff going on – it’s a very healthy field in the UK and we are certainly only second to the US,” says Stefan Scholtes of Judge, who chaired the Cambridge RAE submissions committee for business and management.

The RAE will now be replaced with a system of metric measurements, to be known as the Research Excellence Framework.

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