The UK government’s most recent analysis of university departments has just been announced. It’s called the RAE (Research Assessment Excercise), and as its title hints it focuses primarily on research over teaching. See here for the Theology, Divinity and Religious Studies criteria of evaluation. Each staff member is expected to have 4 outputs [paragraph 21], which are things like journal articles, books, etc. [paragraph 16]. The rating on the quality of the outputs counts 80% towards the total score, as well as research environment (15%) and research esteem (5%). The research environment captures a) research students and studentships earned, b) research income, c) research structure, d) staffing policy, and e) research strategy. Each aspect is ranked on a scale of 4 (world-leading) to unclassified (falls below standard of nationally recognised work).
Durham topped the list of universities for Theology and Religion over perennials like Oxbridge, Edinburgh, and Aberdeen in two ways: 1) it has the highest average score and 2) it has the highest percentage of 4-ranked research activities. I may be biased, but I’d say I’m not surprised that Durham is at (or near) the top. However, you’ll notice quite a few universities bunched near the top, so Durham’s lead doesn’t put them in a class of their own. Though, this is just one more reason to go with Durham.
This could help Durham’s reputation outside the UK. I can say that I didn’t really know anything about the university until I started looking for UK programs. But they’ve got quite a history of scholars that many don’t associate with the university. Another, more tangible benefit is the government funding that is associated with RAE results.