More than 81 per cent of all research carried out by the University of Birmingham is rated as internationally excellent (3*) or world leading (4*) according to a UK-wide research quality survey published today (Thursday 18 December).

The results of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014 also show that 87 per cent of the University of Birmingham’s research activity has a global impact, confirming its position among the world’s top universities for research in a broad range of areas from History and Education to Chemical Engineering and Psychology.

REF 2014 logo

The REF measures the quality and impact of research conducted in universities and higher education institutions in the UK against international standards of excellence, and enables higher education funding bodies to distribute public funds on the basis of both the quality and volume of the research as well as its wider impact.

The Vice-Chancellor of the University of Birmingham, Professor Sir David Eastwood, said: ‘At Birmingham, pioneering innovative solutions that address big issues, unlock value and benefit society is at the heart of our research agenda. Today’s results put us among a handful of institutions that can demonstrate world-leading or internationally-renowned research across such a broad range of subjects.

“I am delighted that at this midpoint in our ten-year research strategy we have met, and mostly exceeded, the targets we set ourselves and confirmed our place amongst the very best universities across a number of disciplines.”

The results place many of the University’s arts and humanities researchers among the very best in the UK, highlighting our world-class research programme. Philosophy, History, Classics, Theology and Religion, and West African Studies were top ranked and recognised for bringing significant benefits to society. This includes our work in the field of global ethics in, for example, the governance of the UK Biobank and in genetic research practices.

The University’s College of Life and Environmental Sciences also performed extremely well. The results placed the University’s Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation researchers among the top three in the UK, highlighting the world-class research programme into pioneering work, including helping ‘hard to reach’ communities to adopt and maintain more active and healthier lifestyles. The opening of the Sport Policy Centre will further strengthen the ties between first-class research and innovative policy making in years to come. Psychology was ranked 5th in the Russell Group for its world-leading 4* research making it one of the best stand-alone Psychology schools in the country. Biological Sciences saw improvements in every measure moving to 6th place for its combined 4* and 3* research.

Also among the best in the country is Birmingham’s School of Education, where research centres are carrying out important, cutting-edge work in areas such as autism, character education, race and education, access to higher education, multilingualism, and visual impairment. The department is also integral to the establishment of the University of Birmingham secondary school which opens in September 2015.

The results have highlighted a number of areas in engineering as world class and internationally renowned, including chemical engineering, where scientists are working on new low-fat foods which could lead to improved health, and metallurgy and materials, where scientists are exploring the processing of permanent magnetic materials to recycle rare earth metals, as well as components for aeroengine applications.

Ranked first in the country for Dentistry in terms of 4* and 3* research, academics have joined forces with leading global industry names such as Unilever, Philips and Mars to trial new products which will have health impacts far beyond dental issues, including in diabetes and heart disease. The research has also led to a number of disease assessment tools being launched for high- street dentists, and low-cost tests to help people to stop smoking. In 2015, following significant investment, the first new dental hospital in the UK for 40 years will open as the new home for the University’s School of Dentistry.

While the REF provides clear recognition of the high-quality research previously undertaken at Birmingham, the University is already looking to the future: pioneering new work into quantum technologies that could help industry to solve many problems, exploring ways to combat antibiotic resistance, and developing intelligent robots that could help us in our everyday lives. The University is even preparing to send water fleas into space to see how they react to zero gravity, looking at medical ethics to deliver excellence in empirically-informed and policy-relevant research, and leading the way in stratified medicine - a new way of streamlining treatments tailored to individual needs.

University of Birmingham

  • The University of Birmingham was named The Times and The Sunday Times University of the Year 2013/14.
  • The University of Birmingham is ranked among the world’s top 100 institutions. Its work brings people from across the world to Birmingham, including researchers and teachers and more than 4,000 international students from nearly 150 countries.
  • The University collaborates with partners across the world to produce ground-breaking research, deliver innovative teaching, and to create opportunities for students and staff to gain international experience.

Research Excellence Framework 2014
The four UK higher education funding bodies allocate about £2 billion per year of research funding to UK universities, based on the quality and volume of each university’s research. They aim to support a dynamic and internationally competitive UK research sector that makes a major contribution to economic prosperity, national wellbeing and the expansion and dissemination of knowledge.
The four UK funding bodies are: the Higher Education Funding Council for England, Scottish Funding Council, Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, and Department for Education, Northern Ireland.

Aims of the Research Excellence Framework
To distribute funds selectively on the basis of quality, the funding bodies assess universities’ research through a periodic exercise. This was previously known as the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE), and was last conducted in 2008.
The 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF) replaced the RAE. It assessed the quality and impact of research submitted by UK universities across all disciplines. The results will be published in December 2014 and will be used by the funding bodies to allocate block-grant research funding to universities from 2015-16.
As well as informing funding allocations, the REF provides accountability for public investment in research, demonstrates its benefits, and provides important reputational yardsticks and benchmarking information about the research performance of UK universities.

REF2014 key facts

  • 154 UK universities took part. They made 1,911 submissions for:

– 52,077 academic staff
– 191,232 research outputs
– 6,975 impact case studies 

  • 36 expert sub-panels reviewed the submissions, overseen by four main panels
  • around £2 billion per year of research funding will be allocated on the basis of the results.