19 Dec 2008

Open University celebrates world-class research performance

OU is world-class

OU is world-class

The Open University has climbed 23 places to 43rd in the UK’s latest Research Assessment Exercise (RAE 2008), securing a place in the UK’s top 50 higher education institutions*.

The Vice Chancellor Professor Brenda Gourley said “I am delighted with this major improvement in our research rankings, the second largest improvement in the UK top 50, which provides further evidence of the quality and stature of the University and allows us to celebrate forty years as a major UK institution that delivers world-leading excellence in teaching, research and knowledge transfer”.

The results show more than 50% of the University’s research is ‘internationally excellent’ (3*) and 14% is ‘world-leading’ (4*), as determined by the 2008 RAE’s expert and peer review process. The quality of our research is matched by its breadth - with units submitted from all seven faculties.

Professor Brigid Heywood, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research and Enterprise, commented “the results justify our strategic decisions to nurture key strengths, build a rich and sustainable research environment and develop and grow centres of excellence across a wide discipline range”.

The University's design group - spanning areas from design thinking, to sustainability and complexity - now ranks third in the UK out of a field of 72. The Centre for Research in Computing has leapt firmly into the top 20, achieving joint 16th place with Bristol, Bath, York and Aberystwyth.

The strength and excellence of the research supported by the OU Centre for Earth, Planetary, Space and Astronomical Research was also acknowledged with more than 70% of its multidisciplinary submission deemed internationally excellent and world-leading, achieving 3*/4* rankings.

Another strategic success is the placing of Development Studies at equal 4th with Bath University; the work of this group underpins our programme of activities in Africa.

The improved placing of the OU’s Social Work submission, coupled with our signature successes in both Education and Sociology, exemplify the quality and breadth of the University’s research and reinforce our international reputation for innovative and rigorous research that influences policy and enhances practice.

Overall, the University has seen significant improvements in a number of key discipline areas, with notably strong performances in two new subject units and, in the challenging and competitive environment of the last few years, it has enhanced or maintained its 2001 ranked positions in most disciplines. A 75% growth in competitively awarded research income over the last five years is another robust measure of our increasing research excellence.

The Open University, the only truly national higher education institution in the UK, provides teaching support to over 200,000 students through its network of nation and regional centres. The research activities of its academic staff, based at its Walton Hall campus, take place around the world.

Over the last seven years the University has invested significantly in developing its infrastructure for research, including a 46% increase in laboratory space. The latest addition is the new Jennie Lee Building which opened this year, with dedicated laboratories for pervasive computing and deployment of ambient and ubiquitous technologies.

* According to the Times Higher Education Table of Excellence, published on 18 December 2008.

For Press enquiries including interview requests contact Jane Dillon,, mob. 07768 658013.

Editor's Notes
1. Details of the Research Assessment Exercise, including The Open University’s results are available at:
2. The Times Higher ‘Table of Excellence’ is at:
3. The Open University’s Research Highlights 2008 brochure can be downloaded from:
4. The University’s freely accessible repository of over 8,200 research publications, Open Research Online (, is the seventh largest university repository in the UK.
5. More than 1,100 postgraduate students are registered for research degrees with the Open University.
6. The Open University’s iTunes U site (, launched in June 2008, reached 2 million downloads this month from over 250,000 users across the globe. The site has included research content since October 2008.

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