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REF2014

The Research Excellence Framework (REF2014) was commissioned by the four UK higher education funding bodies to assess the quality of research in UK higher education institutions (HEIs). The exercise was managed by the REF team based at HEFCE and overseen by the REF Steering Group, consisting of representatives of the four funding bodies.

The REF2014 outcomes were published on 18 December 2014, and the results for Abertay were very encouraging.  Our overall score rose by almost 18% compared with the previous national Research Assessment Exercise in 2008 (RAE2008) and we scored some significant successes in individual subjects with increases in the proportion of research judged to be ‘internationally excellent’ or ‘world-leading’. 

Unlike most other universities, Abertay deliberately chose to submit more subjects and more staff than it did in RAE2008.  This is central to our long-term plan to embed a research-led culture right across Abertay, underpinning everything we do in research, knowledge-exchange and especially teaching.  The overall improvement in REF2014 was particularly pleasing as our explicitly interdisciplinary research strategy potentially hampered success in a subject-driven assessment process.  

Bucking national trends, Abertay submitted 30% more staff than in RAE 2008, and submitted seven Units of Assessment (UoAs) compared to six in 2008, including three first-time submissions (Sports Science, Sociology, and Biological Sciences).

Our overall score was 2.15, which REF2014 describes as ‘quality that is recognised internationally in terms of originality, significance and rigour'. This is a significant step-change from the 1.83, 'national recognition', we achieved in RAE2008.  In individual UoAs, the scores were as follows (RAE2008 scores in brackets):

Unit of Assessment

REF2014

RAE2008

Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience

2.73

1.70

Sports and Exercise Sciences, Leisure and Tourism

2.53

-

Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences

2.51

2.40

General Engineering

2.08

1.95

Sociology

2.00

-

Law

1.63

2.00

Biological Sciences

1.60

-

Our Law submission did less well than expected, but this is a very small unit that had seen significant staff mobility over the previous few years, and high scores for Law units across the UK are positively correlated with the size of unit.  In Biological Sciences, we were competing with very large, well-funded life sciences laboratories UK-wide, and in fact we were the only modern university in Scotland to submit here. 

REF2014 ranked research in each UoA on a four-grade scale, with 3* equating to ‘internationally excellent, and 4* equating to ‘world-leading’.  This table gives the proportions of research graded 3* and 4* in each UoA submitted by Abertay, with RAE2008 proportions in brackets:

Unit of Assessment

3*

4*

Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience

51%

12%

Sports and Exercise Sciences, Leisure and Tourism

19%

19%

Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences

48% (45%)

2% (10%)

General Engineering

20% (25%)

3% (5%)

Sociology

17% (-)

5% (-)

Law

9% (20%)

0

Biological Sciences

13% (-)

2% (-)

(Note: we did not submit in Sports, Sociology, or Biological Sciences in RAE 2008)

The table shows that almost two-thirds of Abertay’s psychology research and more than half of its sports science research and environmental research is rated as ‘internationally excellent’ or ‘world-leading’.  Also significant was the fact that we scored a proportion of research as 4* in six of the seven UoAs in 2014, compared to only two out of the six units submitted in 2008.

Even more significantly, an alternative ranking of the results by Times Higher Education maps university performance against the proportion of eligible staff submitted, to counter the tactic of getting a high score with a small submission and create a level playing field.  This analysis puts Abertay at 76th equal in the UK, part of the leading group of modern universities and ahead of some older universities as well as the other Scottish modern universities.

In total, Abertay submitted 36% of its academic staff to REF 2014; compared with only around 22% submitted by the other five modern universities in Scotland.  We believe that an Abertay student now has a better chance of being taught by an academic of international or world-leading quality than most students at other universities.  We are determined to use that advantage to deliver the truly exceptional quality of learning experience that is our central aim and purpose.