Results out and now the long wait….


The REF 2014 results, released just before the Christmas holidays, meant research, planning and press staff at 154 UK universities spent much of the Christmas period scrutinising over the grades given to over 52,000 research staff. No doubt celebrations, commiserations and speculations on their consequences have followed! The REF results also sent the HE industry into overdrive, with commentaries from Times Higher, Wonkhe and Research Fortnight.

While additional metrics such as intensity and power calculations (page 8) can be interesting and may have their uses, just some simple scatter plots of quality outcomes based on staff submitted or percent eligible staff can also be revealing.

There were 24 universities in London which submitted more than one Unit of Assessment (UoA), and 14 specialists (only one UoA submitted, including one research organisation). The Times Higher table of grade point averages (GPA) showed seven of the Top 20 universities are in London, and seven of the Top 10 specialists are also in London.

One regional effect noted by some commentators was the strong performance of the six universities in the Oxford-Cambridge-London ‘Golden Triangle’. Many consider this could lead to a concentration of research in the South East, and especially in London given the scale of investment in university campus and research facilities in the capital, and work supported by the Mayor of London’s LEP for MedCity and TechCity.

Meanwhile, London Higher has been interested in trying to work out the range of research considered to be high quality in London by looking at the 36 subject panels and collating Top 10 or Top 20 lists for GPA scores.

For the research intensive universities submitting more than one UoA, Table 1 lists how many times these universities featured under ‘Overall’ in Top 10 or Top 20 lists for the 36 subject groups.  Research strengths for London include biomedicine, engineering, geography, economics, creative arts and the humanities.

Table 1: London universities featuring in Top 10 or Top 20 subject group lists

University 

No. subject groups

Imperial College London

      14

King’s College London

      22

London School of Economics & Pol Sci

      11

Queen Mary, University of London

      11

Royal Holloway, University of London

        9

UCL

      25

Note: Top 10 assessed if ca. < 50 universities in subject group otherwise Top 20 assessed.

Table 2 details 18 other London universities which featured in Top 10 or Top 20 lists for either ‘Overall’, ‘Output’ or ‘Impact’.  The additional strengths for London, as might have been expected, are for subjects included under Art & Design, Performing Arts and Communication Studies & Information Management.

The focus now moves on to the financial outcomes.  The big questions include (1) how do REF assessments translate into a revised HEFCE funding formula?  One change from RAE 2008 may be the equation will exclude staff classed below 3* or be based on power calculations involving % FTE staff submitted, and (2) what will the General Election mean for the size and status of the ring-fenced research budget?  Not many clues from the main political parties so far (e.g. 2014 Science and Innovation policyLabour Party green paper;  The Green Party), except for the Liberal Democrats.

The fear is the budget will be reduced by any incoming Government or Coalition even though, for example, the UK invests less in science than most EU countries and below the OECD average.  The end result seems likely to include cuts in the humanities, more concentration of research funding among the research-intensive universities, and perhaps a disappearance of the ‘islands of excellence’ identified in RAE 2008 and REF 2014.