Oxford tops research rankings

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Published: Thursday 18th December 2014 by The News Editor

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The stronghold of Oxford and Cambridge in research is being threatened by the rise of London universities, according to an analysis of official data.

New rankings still show Oxford remains top in terms of research, but University College London is now second, pushing Cambridge into third place.

The findings indicate the growing dominance of the capital’s higher education institutions, with both Imperial College London and King’s College London (KCL) taking places in the top 10.

The analysis, produced by Research Fortnight, is based on the results of 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF), a large-scale exercise which reviews the quality of research in different subjects at universities across the UK.

Separate figures suggest that Imperial has the highest concentration of top, world-class research.

In total, the research of more than 52,000 academic staff working at 154 institutions was peer-reviewed by a series of expert panels.

They graded the work, giving the best (world leading) 4* down to 1* (recognised nationally).

The results will be used to allocate research funding of around £2 billion a year to universities from 2015/16.

Overall, the panels concluded that 30% of the submitted work was “world-leading”, while a further 46% was rated as 3* – “internationally excellent”.

Three-quarters of universities had at least 10% of their work graded as 4*, while three-quarters had at least 49% of their work graded as 3* or above.

The quality of research was found to have improved significantly since the last research assessment exercise in 2008, according to a major report detailing the latest results.

Professor Madeleine Atkins, chief executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), said: “The 2014 REF represents an outstanding achievement. Rigorous assessment of high-quality research is at the heart of the REF and the results confirm that UK universities are in the top rank of an internationally competitive research community.

“UK research has improved from an already strong position in the last exercise, with many universities delivering more ground-breaking work of the highest quality. Universities have also demonstrated how their excellent research has impacted positively on economic growth, health and social well-being, and improved quality of life.”

Research Fortnight’s rankings, based on calculations involving factors such as staff numbers and expected funding allocations to give a “power” ranking to each university, put Oxford in first place.

The prestigious institution was also top in 2008 according to Research Fortnight. UCL has moved up one spot to second, while Cambridge fell one place to third, the analysis shows. Rounding out the top five are Edinburgh, then Manchester, which switch places from six years ago.

Also in the top 10 were Imperial in sixth, KCL up from 11th to seventh, Nottingham down one to eighth, Bristol up one spot to ninth and Leeds down two to 10th.

Asked about the rankings, David Sweeney, director of research at HEFCE said that these reflect the numbers submitted to the exercise.

“Across the Northern universities, fewer folk have been submitted, there’s less research going on,” he said, adding this method of calculating the results is “volume based”.

“Inevitably, if you have fewer people doing research you get less funding – we essentially fund on a per head basis weighted by quality.”

The official report shows that excellent research was found in all types of institutions, not just the traditional, research-intensive universities.

Imperial said that it had the highest concentration of world class research, with 91% of the work it submitted rated as world-leading or internationally excellent.

The institution’s provost, Professor James Stirling, said: “These REF results confirm Imperial’s status as one of the world’s great research universities. It is gratifying to see the outstanding work of so many colleagues acknowledged in this way.”

Universities Minister Greg Clark said: “Britain’s outstanding reputation in research is founded on excellence. A rigorous and unflinching review by fellow experts assures that excellence, this is why the REF is such a crucial driver of quality. It is superb news that 72% of UK research was world-leading or internationally excellent – up from 51% last time.”

“I warmly congratulate all the researchers and institutions on this magnificent achievement.”

Cambridge said 87% of its submissions had been rated as “world-leading” or “internationally excellent”.

The university’s vice-chancellor, Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, said: “These results demonstrate Cambridge’s strength in depth across research, in particular confirming our global leadership in the pure and applied sciences, clinical medicine, and in subjects as diverse as the classics and business and management studies.

“The significant increase we have seen both in our average score and in the proportion of our research rated world-leading is a reflection of the phenomenal research under way at Cambridge.”

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of vice-chancellors’ group Universities UK, said: “These results show that overall research quality has increased across the UK. It highlights the research strength in depth we have in all nations and regions of the UK and across all universities.

“It is further evidence of the world-leading research produced by our universities and highlights that public funding for research is a good investment. The strength of research in our universities will help build future national and regional economic prosperity and help us meet the big global and societal challenges.”

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union (UCU), said: “Our universities must be free to continue pushing the boundaries in their cutting-edge work. We must also recognise that a lot of research not included or rated highly in the REF is still incredibly important.

“Too often our world-leading research is being conducted by people with little or no job security. Universities must avoid any knee-jerk reactions to the results or use perceived low scores to try and make unnecessary cuts.”

Professor Andrew Hamilton, vice-chancellor of Oxford University said: “I welcome our superb REF results, which clearly reflect our outstanding world-leading research. It is pleasing to be ranked in first place, but even more pleasing to see recognition of the fantastic contribution Oxford researchers make to knowledge across a huge range of subjects and of the real impact they have on health, prosperity, policy formation and culture around the world.

“It is vital – if the full economic, social and cultural benefits of this research excellence at Oxford, and elsewhere in the higher education sector are to be realised – that strong and sustained public investment in leading university research is maintained and indeed increased.”

Published: Thursday 18th December 2014 by The News Editor

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