The results of the 2021 REF were published last week, the culmination of a seven-year assessment period. The University of Southampton’s outstanding research and impact has been recognised with ninety-two per cent of the University’s research classed as ‘world leading’ (4*) or ‘internationally excellent’ (3*), placing Southampton in the top 10 per cent of submitting institutions. Impressively, our impact is ranked seventh among universities that submitted to more than one Unit of Assessment (‘non-specialist’ universities) across the sector and 4th in the Russell Group.
Why are the results of the REF important to our institution and faculty?
The results are key for our institutional reputation and provide accountability for public investment, this is how we are seen compared to other universities and crucially has financial implications. The better we do in the REF assessment, the better the University’s income and the more there is available to invest in facilities, equipment, and staff to support all of our research.
For those not closely involved, the REF assesses the quality of research in UK higher education institutions, recording performance in different specialty groups, referred to as units of assessments or UoAs. Each UoA is assessed in three areas, which together reflect the key characteristics of research excellence:
- Quality of research outputs (accounting for 60% of the assessment)
- Impact of research – its effect on, change, or benefit to the economy, society, policy, culture and quality of life (accounting for 25% of the assessment)
- Research environment – an institution’s research strategy, research facilities, opportunities for collaboration and environment, including research income and research degrees awarded (accounting for 15% of the assessment)
In medicine we submitted 226 independent researchers across 6 UoAs. The vast majority of the Faculty were submitted in UoA1 (Clinical Medicine), where 450 research outputs were returned alongside 10 impact case studies. Our research environment was documented in a 16,000 word statement.
Primary Care researchers were returned under UoA2 (34 outputs, 2 impact case studies and a separate research environment statement). Other members of the Faculty were returned under UoA3 (Allied Health Professions, Dentistry, Nursing and Pharmacy), UoA4 (Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience), UoA5 (Biological Sciences), and UoA22 (Anthropology and Development Studies), determined by their specific area of research.
For the Faculty of Medicine, we can be incredibly proud of how our research was assessed. In UoA1 Clinical Medicine, 81% of our research was judged to be ‘world leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’. The result for UoA2 Public Health, Health Services and Primary Care was even better, with 94% of our research judged to be ‘world leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’, with the highest-grade point average in the country for this UoA.
We should be particularly proud of how the impact of our research was judged. Of the 16 case studies we submitted over UoAs 1,2 and 4, 69% were judged “world leading” and all others “internationally excellent”.
Looking at research power, the research volume multiplied by quality, we were ranked 12th in the country for clinical medicine, a fantastic result.
We must remember that this assessment is not of individuals in our research community – we will never find out how individual papers or impact case studies have been scored, rather it reflects the excellence of our research teams in which many individuals contribute in different ways to do excellent science and achieve remarkable impacts on society. While we don’t know what the next REF will look like at this stage, if we continue to focus on the principles of fostering excellent multidisciplinary teams who address the most pressing scientific and societal challenges, rather than metrics such as counting papers and impact factors, we can’t go far wrong.
Finally, we must acknowledge the dozens of colleagues who contributed to assessing papers, writing impact case studies, and drafting the environment templates that enabled us to showcase our research. To those often-unsung heroes – thank you.
We should all be very proud of our research community, not just because of our REF performance, but because of the contribution our staff and students are making to improving the health of the population in the 21st century.
Professor Diana Baralle, Associate Dean Research
Professor John Holloway, Associate Vice President (Interdisciplinary Research)