The Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) is a national exercise which takes place every few years, to assess research quality in all UK Higher Education Institutions (HEIs).
The results of the RAE are used by the Research Councils and the Funding Councils (in our case, the Higher Education Funding Council for England) to apportion the amount of government funding each HEI receives. The RAE, being a useful barometer of quality, is also a key recruitment tool for staff, PhD students, and increasingly, Masters students.
2008 is the last time the RAE will appear in its current form. It will be replaced by the Research Excellence Framework, which will place an increased importance on quantity of research, including bibliometrics where appropriate.
Visit the RAE website for more information.