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Oxford and UCL claim to receive lion’s share of grants in UK research audit | REF

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British universities are conducting deeper global research than previously thought, according to a large-scale study on the results and real impact of 76,000 scientists in the UK.

The findings of the Research Framework of Excellence (REF), examining work done in 2014-2021, are based on an estimate of almost 186,000 scientific studies, and the results are used to allocate around £ 2 billion in annual public funding.

According to experts, the results show that Oxford and University College London are likely to receive the largest share of public research grants due to the high proportion of their departments rated as “world leaders”.

But the overall results showed a slight decline in the share of high-end “golden triangle” research from the universities of Cambridge, Oxford and London and showed larger pockets of high-quality research in smaller institutions.

The University of Northumbria has become one of the biggest winners, its research findings in health-related fields such as nursing and engineering have received high proportions of high rankings.

Andrew Watty, vice-chancellor of Northumbria, said increasing the market share of his university’s future funding from the 52nd to the 28th “clearly moves us to a territory formerly a Russell Group reserve” of universities as a global research power. “Northumbria is the first modern university to cross the pure blue water that separated the old and new parts of the sector, and others follow it,” Wattie said.

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A two-year peer review found that 41% of the studies submitted were rated “world-leading” at four stars, and 43% received three stars as “excellent internationally”. In 2014, REF rated 22% of research as world-leading, but senior executives said the increase was the result of improved materials and changes in the way the exercise is conducted.

Reforms since 2014 have forced universities to include in their materials all researchers who have significant involvement in research. But it also gave more flexibility in how much research could be provided for each member, including for employees whose careers were disrupted during this period.

For the 2014 REF, about 52,000 scholars submitted 190,000 papers, while in 2021, 76,000 staff submitted 185,600 studies, including books and journal articles.

David Sweeney, Executive Chairman Research Britain said the reforms made it impossible to compare results. “I think we see that research in the UK continues to be very, very strong and maybe a little stronger. But we are talking about another measure, ”he said.

Professor Dean Birch, who chaired the REF’s Arts and Humanities Review Commission, said the differences were far-reaching. “This is a different exercise, and aligning the results of REF 2021 with the results of 2014 will be misleading,” she said.

Birch said a “dizzying diversity” of research was presented. “Everything from Anthony Trolop’s fiction to the nature of the particles that make up the substance of the universe, to the discovery of new materials for innovation,” she said.

The rating is calculated by Research Professional Newsa specialized publication that tracks funding found that Oxford’s “market share” funding is likely to decline from 6.24% in 2014 after the previous REF to 5.7%.

The ranking also showed that the universities of Lancaster and Loughborough had better results than the two members of the Russell Group of Research-Intensive Universities, with Lancaster above the Queen’s University of Belfast and the London School of Economics.

Sarah Richardson, editor of Research Professional News, said the REF results are crucial in giving universities access to more flexible “quality-related” funding flows. “This is very important for universities and researchers because it pays for their fixed costs, such as salaries and initial project funding, and helps them plan and invest in research capacity, not just fund research project after project,” Richardson said.

Joe Grady, secretary general of the Universities and Colleges union, said the REF was wasting staff time and resources, describing it as “an emblem of a research culture obsessed with arbitrarily designating institutions or departments as winners or losers.”

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