Scotland’s Universities ‘world leading’

Written by Tom Freeman on 18 December 2014 in News

New Research Excellence Framework reports favourably for Scottish Higher Education

Every single university in Scotland undertakes research of world-leading quality, according to a UK university research audit published today.

Seventy-seven per cent of Scottish research submitted to the The Research Excellence Framework (REF) was judged to be “world-leading” or “internationally excellent” on the overall profile. This puts Scotland just ahead of the UK average of 76.1 per cent.

Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning Angela Constance said: “Scotland is globally recognised for pioneering research and has four universities in the world’s top 200 – more per head of population than any other country, except Switzerland.”

An exercise that assesses the quality of academic research is published every six years, and can boost or hinder universities’ basic research funding and reputation. It is also a strong influence on student recruitment.

The REF replaces the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE), and since the last exercise in 2008 criteria has changed to include the impact of research on the economy, society, public policy, culture and the quality of life. 85.8 per cent of Scottish research was judged to be at four-star and three-star levels for impact.

Professor Pete Downes, Convener of Universities Scotland, said: “I couldn’t be any prouder that Scotland universities have been shown to excel in the impact of their research, a performance which is significantly better than the average across the UK.”

The University of Edinburgh had 83 per cent of its research activity in the highest categories, placing it first in Scotland and fourth in the UK for breadth and quality of its research. It also saw a strong performance in joint submissions with other universities such as Heriot-Watt and Scotland’s Rural College. Principal of the University of Edinburgh, Professor Sir Timothy O’Shea, described the results as “an exceptionally strong performance across the whole of the University’s research activity”.

The University of Glasgow is placed second in Scotland thanks to its volume of research. Principal and Vice-Chancellor Professor Anton Muscatelli said: “This success lies at the very heart of our contribution to the UK’s economy and, in particular, Scotland’s economy.”

University and College Union Scotland Official Mary Senior said staff should be congratulated. “Too often our world-leading research is being conducted by people with little or no job security,” she said.

The report finds the quality of academic research across the UK has improved considerably. Benchmarked against international standards, 22 per cent of research outputs in the REF were judged to be of world-leading (four-star) quality, up from 14 per cent in 2008.

Speaking on behalf of the four UK higher education funding bodies, Professor Madeleine Atkins, Chief Executive of England’s Funding Council, said the 2014 REF was an “outstanding achievement” and called for levels of funding to be maintained. “Shrewd public investment creates the capacity required to generate new knowledge in previously unexplored or unexpected fields and the flexibility to respond quickly and effectively to a changing environment,” she said.

154 UK universities took part in the REF, with special panels reviewing a total of 190,000 research submissions by 52,000 academic staff. It is estimated UK institutions spent £47m polishing their submissions in the run up to today’s report.

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