Research Excellence Framework 2021 results


Research Excellence Framework 2021 results

Top 30 in the UK for our research

The University of Leicester’s position for world-changing research has been confirmed in the results of the 2021 Research Excellence Framework (REF).

Key results

  • 89% of our overall research was assessed as world-leading (4*) or internationally excellent (3*)
  • We are a top 30 UK university for our research. The University of Leicester was one of the biggest movers in REF2021, rising 23 places from 53rd (REF2014) to joint 30th (according to analysis of Grade-Point-Average, GPA by the Times Higher Education)
  • We are in the top five nationally for five subjects (Unit of Assessment by Grade-Point-Average, GPA, according to analysis by the Times Higher Education)

according to analysis by Times Higher Education.

"Our REF2021 results demonstrate our commitment to world-changing research that transforms lives and shapes the future. Our talented academics are experts in their fields and dedicated to making a real difference to lives and societies in the UK and beyond. I am delighted by such strong results in REF2021 that cement our position as a leading UK research-intensive university."

Professor Nishan Canagarajah, President and Vice-Chancellor

REF2021 results

We submitted 751 researchers to our 2021 REF return, across 22 Units of Assessment with 69 impact case studies submitted that evidenced our impact on lives across the world. 

Overall, 89% of the University's research activity was judged to be ‘world-leading’ (4*) or ‘internationally excellent’ (3*). 

And in our subject areas, we are delighted to see the University placed in the top five nationally for the following subjects (by the Times Higher Education REF2021 Subject Tables):

  • UoA 1 Clinical Medicine (ranked 2nd overall out of 31)
  • UoA 15 Archaeology (ranked 5th overall out of 24)
  • UoA 24 Sports Science (ranked 2nd overall out of 61)
  • UoA 28 History (ranked 2nd overall out of 81)
  • UoA 34B Museum Studies (ranked 3rd overall out of 58)

Research impact

In REF2021, 89.7%* of the real-world impact of our research across the institution was judged to be 'outstanding' or 'very considerable' (*weighted average). In three of the Unit of Assessment (UoAs) to which we made a submission, we attained the highest GPA for impact:

  • UoA 5 Biological Sciences
  • UoA 15 Archaeology^
  • UoA 24 Sports and Exercise Science^

^For UoAs 15 and 24, 100% of impact was judged to be 'outstanding' - the highest score possible.

In a further two Units of Assessment (UoAs), our impact GPA was ranked in the top 10 nationally: 

  • UOA 1 Clinical Sciences - 8th for impact GPA
  • UoA 27 English Language and Literature - 5th for impact GPA

According to analysis by the Times Higher Education

The real-world societal impact of our research is important to us here at the University. In addition to our REF2021 impact results, we are ranked 23rd overall in the Times Higher Education World Impact Rankings (2022), with particular strengths in the following Sustainable Development Goals:

The Times Higher Education World Impact Rankings use the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as categories.

Research environment

REF2021 also assesses the research 'environment' of each university – the place where researchers undertake their research, collaborate and thrive to achieve the very best research outcomes. Environment covers a range of areas from staff diversity and support to funding income, to buildings and facilities. 

95.5% of our research environment was judged to be 'world-leading' or 'internationally excellent', meaning the University of Leicester is a great place to be a researcher and to foster an academic career. 

Research outputs

Academic research can take a variety of forms of ‘output’ for REF, as long as it meets their definition of research (“a process of investigation leading to new insights, effectively shared”).

The number of outputs each university was required to submit was set by a calculation of 2.5 times the Full Time Equivalent (FTE) submitted for each unit of assessment. Overall, Leicester submitted 1689 outputs across a range of formats from journal articles, to book chapters and whole books, scholarly editions, research reports and conference papers.

Institutionally, over 85% of our research outputs were judged to be world-leading or internationally excellent.

About REF

The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is the system for assessing the quality of research in UK Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). 

Submissions to REF2021 were made in March 2021 (delayed from November 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic). Results were published in May 2022. REF2021 is administered and managed by Research England (formerly the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE)) on behalf of all four of the UK's funding bodies for Higher Education and has a threefold purpose:

  • To provide accountability for public investment in research and produce evidence of the benefits of this investment.
  • To provide benchmarking information and establish reputational yardsticks for use within the HE sector and for public information.
  • To inform the selective allocation of funding for research with effect from Autumn 2022.

REF2021 assesses the quality of research using three indicators:

  • Outputs (the originality, significance and rigour of books, chapters, journal articles and patents). Worth 60% of the overall quality profile.
  • Impact (the reach and significance of the economic and societal impact of excellent research). Worth 25% of the overall quality profile.
  • Environment (the vitality and sustainability of the research environment). Worth 15% of the total quality profile.
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