Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021 Results

The School of Social and Political Sciences is delighted that 90% or more of its research in REF2021 has been assessed as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’ in terms of its originality, significance and rigour.

The School returned 117 FTE independent researchers to four Units of Assessment (UoA) in REF2021, along with 15 FTE staff from the University’s Institute of Health and Wellbeing and School of Interdisciplinary Studies.  SPS staff formed the majority of the submissions made to UoAs 13 (Architecture, Built Environment and Planning), 19 (Politics and International Studies) and 20 (Social Policy and Social Work), and made a significant contribution to the submission to UoA 28 (History).  This was made possible by the efforts of all 436 academic and professional staff in the School, who have contributed to the delivery of research, supervision and research-informed teaching programmes across our five Subject areas.

We submitted over 300 outputs for assessment by the REF panels, of which over 90% were rated as world leading or internationally excellent. This is testament to our commitment to rigorous scholarship and open research methods, and our aim to make significant academic contributions to our disciplines.  Our outputs reflect a diversity of theoretical frameworks and methodological approaches, and increasing innovation in data collection and analytical techniques, spanning both quantitative and qualitative approaches.  We are pleased that our collegiate approach to supporting colleagues in the production of high-quality outputs - through training, the provision of writing opportunities, and formative peer reviewing – has resulted in such a positive outcome.

We are delighted that 100% of the research environment in each of our Units of Assessment has been considered world leading or internationally excellent.  Our research culture and environment, across the School and within our Subjects, enable our academic staff, early career researchers and doctoral students to progress their research agendas, individually and collectively, and to advance their careers.  Working through our nine research centres, eight research clusters and participation in five university research networks we have successfully expanded our research funding.  This has resulted in a doubling of research income in Politics and International Studies and a quadrupling of research income in both Social Policy & Social Work and Architecture, Built Environment and Planning, and enabled us to address a wider range of research challenges, both internationally and within the UK,  and to support more early career researchers: currently 138 research and teaching staff in the School are supported by, and in turn support, 64 research staff and over 250 postgraduate research students.

As a School we are committed to having impact with our research, including capacity building in developing countries, informing public understanding and debate about current issues, and influencing policy development and professional practice across several sectors. In support of this ambition, we provide training, funding and time for our staff to undertake knowledge exchange, public engagement and policy & practice impact work.  We submitted 14 Impact Case Studies to the four REF panels and are very pleased that 100% of our impact work has been rated as world leading or internationally excellent in terms of its reach and significance. Representative of the breadth of our research, knowledge exchange and impact, these case studies were wide ranging in term of the issues and geographies they covered, and included, for example: informing the UK Government’s decision to reduce the imposition of sanctions in its Universal Credit welfare scheme; influencing the development of a new approach to advocacy support within the criminal justice system in Scotland for victims of rape and sexual assault; developing and evaluating a successful weight management and healthy lifestyle programme for football fans that has been implemented in eleven countries; assisting the EU in renewing its partnership agreement with  79 states in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific (OACPS); and, supporting Oxfam’s programme to prevent gender-based violence in Central America.

Our research and impact work is underpinned by extensive networks of collaboration and partnership.  Our academic collaborators come from across the UK HEI sector as well as from many equivalent institutions in other countries.  Our non-academic partners include governments, public agencies, NGOs and communities of interest and place.  We work with these groups and organisations to develop, conduct and disseminate our research and will continue to use our School resources to support our staff in developing these relationships and approaches.

Responding to the REF2021 outcome School Research Director Ade Kearns said “We are very pleased that the quality and value of our research, impact work and supportive research environments across our School have been acknowledged by the REF panels.  This confirms that the School is well placed to continue its good work in the future.”

Going forward we aim to build on our REF2021 performance through maintaining a culture and environment that supports creative and collaborative research that investigates the big challenges facing societies around the world. In this we will seek to expand our international and interdisciplinary research and diversify our sources of research funding.  We also aim to improve our research practices, particularly through improving our implementation of open research. Our academic and professional staff are our most valuable assets in this regard. We will continue to work to minimise precarity among our teaching, research staff and professional staff, and to ensure that all academic staff have good opportunities to undertake research, notwithstanding their other responsibilities and circumstances. We want the School to continue to be a thriving and vibrant research environment that people enjoy working in.