REF 2014 results: table of excellence

Some post-92s gain, but traditional research powers dominate 2014 Research Excellence Framework rankings

The proportion of UK research classed as world-leading has been given a major boost by the inclusion of impact in the 2014 research excellence framework.

But the new element of the exercise, the results of which were published on 18 December, has not had the revolutionary effect that some had predicted.

Some observers had thought that impact – which counts for 20 per cent of the final REF score – would lead to some post-1992 institutions breaking into the upper echelons of the rankings.

However, Times Higher Education’s ranking of institutions based on the grade point average of their results continues to be dominated by traditional research powers.

Of institutions that entered more than one unit of assessment, the Institute of Cancer Research retains the number one spot on GPA (see table above) that it held in the REF’s predecessor, the 2008 research assessment exercise – although it entered only two units of assessment. Imperial College London has risen from sixth to second, and the London School of Economics has climbed one place to third. The University of Oxford keeps its fourth place, but the University of Cambridge falls three places to fifth.

The highest ranking post-1992 institution is Cardiff Metropolitan University, in 41st place – although it entered only 35 researchers to three units of assessment. The next highest, the University of Brighton, is joint 58th, having entered 209 researchers to 10 units. Both institutions were aided by strong showings on impact. Brighton is the top-ranked post-1992 institution on impact GPA, in joint 27th. Cardiff Met is the next highest, in 50th.

Predictably perhaps, medical institutions also score very highly on impact (see table below). The Institute of Cancer Research records the highest impact GPA, with 87 per cent of its submission rated 4* and the other 13 per cent 3*. Second for impact is the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine; fourth is the medical school St George’s, University of London. The Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine is sixth.

It is also notable that some research-intensives have slipped in the overall table by underperforming on impact. The University of Warwick, which is joint eighth overall and sixth on outputs, is only 33rd for impact. Queen Mary University of London is joint 11th overall, and joint seventh on outputs, but only 30th on impact. The lowest ranking Russell Group institution on impact is the University of Exeter, in joint 43rd.

Ranked solely on quality of outputs (see table), the joint top institutions are the Institute of Cancer Research and the London School of Economics, followed by Oxford, then Cambridge and Imperial College London. On the same measure, there were notable performances by smaller research-intensives such as the University of Bath and the University of East Anglia, which are joint 10th. The lowest Russell Group member is Queen’s University Belfast, in joint 50th. It is also the lowest Russell Group member overall, in joint 42nd, one place below the highest post-1992 institution, Cardiff Met.

Among the top 30 on overall GPA, the biggest discrepancy between output and impact was shown by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, which ranked 46 places lower on output.

Overall, impact has been scored much more highly than outputs. Of institutions submitting to more than one subpanel, 77 per cent had a higher GPA for impact than for outputs.

Across the nation as a whole, 44 per cent of impact submissions were rated 4*, compared with only 22 per cent of outputs. The overall national GPA has risen from 2.56 in 2008 to 3.01 in 2014, including a rise in the proportion of submissions rated 4* from 17 to 30 per cent (see charts above).

The “esteem” element of the 2008 RAE, which impact replaced, was not marked as highly as impact. But David Sweeney, director of research, education and knowledge exchange at the Higher Education Funding Council for England, which administers the REF, insisted that the overall rise in grades reflected higher output scores as well. He also noted that the national “spread of excellence” was similar to that found in 2008, with three-quarters of universities having at least 10 per cent of their work labelled world-leading.