The latest REF results were released this week – a hugely important event for UK universities in what is increasingly a bitter dogfight to win institutional funding.
The REF (Research Excellence Framework) is an evaluation of the quality of research at the UK’s top universities – conducted every six years – which determines how much public research funding each institution is allocated.
It is incredibly important for universities, with many investing millions of pounds into ensuring their submissions to the judging panel are up to scratch. With £2bn of funding a year up for grabs, it’s easy to understand why.
Institutions were able to submit examples of the best research by their academic staff in up to 36 subject areas, with each individual staff member put forward having to submit a minimum of four pieces of published work.
As well as being judged on the quality of research and the research environment, this year’s judging considered weight of impact for the first time – the effect of the research in the community or business – accounting for a fifth of the overall score.
Here is a quick summary of the key climbers and those who will be disappointed after this year’s rankings…
The Institute of Cancer Research, the leading cancer facility, topped the rankings, as it did in 2008, with it also topping the new impact category for its globally renowned research work. Although the institution entered only two subject area categories, half of its submissions were given a four star rating – the highest possible, with it being defined as ‘world-leading’. A further 42% achieved three stars, or ‘internationally excellent’, a marked improvement since 2008. The institution also topped the list if research was judged solely on quality of output. On almost every area of classification, it was an excellent year for London’s leading cancer research centre.
The 2014 REF was also an early Christmas present for the staff at Imperial College London, with it climbing four places since 2008 to take second place in the overall rankings. It entered 14 units of assessment, putting forward over 1200 staff for assessment. The results were astonishing, with 90% of submissions earning the two highest grades.
Two institutions will be cheering meteoric rises into the top ten, with Kings College London and Cardiff University rising from joint 22nd place in 2008 to sixth and seventh place respectively this time out. Although Cardiff climbed slightly higher, it submitted around 300 fewer staff this time round, meaning its research power has slightly diminished, dropping from 15th to 18th in that criteria. Kings, however, actually increased the number of staff in contention, contributing to a rapid rise in its research power score, breaking into the top ten to claim sixth spot.
The Welsh capital had more good news, with Cardiff Metropolitan University recording the highest overall rise in the rankings, rocketing up 62 places into 41st spot. Swansea, a fellow Welsh institution, rose highest in the elite group of the top 30 universities, rising from 52nd in 2008 to 26th spot in 2014.
Other rapid climbers into the top 100 places were Queen Margaret University, which climbed 49 places to 80th, and Coventry University which finished in 75th places, up from 106th in 2008.
Medical schools all perhaps unsurprisingly dominated the top places in the new impact tables, with London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, St George’s University of London and Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine all in the top six spots. University College London researchers will also have big smiles on their faces, with their institution ranked best overall for research power, beating the likes of Oxford and Cambridge in their ascent from fourth place in 2008.
Who’ll be disappointed
School of African and Oriental Studies at the University of London was the biggest overall loser, dropping 30 places and falling out of the elite top 50 to take 61st place. It also fell five places in research power. The University of Essex took the biggest tumble from the power places, dropping back from a truly impressive 11th spot in 2008 to 35th this time around.
But the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine will also be disappointed, with it failing to build on its top three ranking, this time dropping seven places to tenth. The University of Manchester also dropped out of the top ten, falling eight places to 17th.
Judging purely on the power of research output, St George’s will be disappointed to slip back twenty places out of the top 100, nestling in 108th spot. University of Bradford slipped a worrying 28 places into 85th, with the likes of University of Sheffield, who dropped out of the top ten on this metric, and the University of Brighton, who slipped ten spots, also feeling a touch aggrieved.