REF 2014: Is London now dominant?

The results of the research excellence framework have triggered claims that London universities are challenging the longstanding dominance of Oxbridge

December 18, 2014

University College London is ranked as the top institution in the UK based on “research power” (see table below), calculated not only on the basis of quality but also on the volume of submissions.

When ranked on grade point average, UCL comes joint eighth, but some observers prefer the research power measure because it gives a better sense of which institutions are likely to win the most quality-related funding.

UCL’s performance on research power, which saw it leapfrog the University of Manchester as well as the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, reflects the large increase in its submitted headcount compared with the 2008 research assessment exercise, up from 1,793 to 2,566.

In this period it has absorbed the School of Pharmacy and, just this month, the Institute of Education.

With the equivalent of 2,409 full-time staff (FTE) submitting to the REF, Oxford is ranked second on research power, ahead of Cambridge, which submitted 2,088 FTE staff.

The University of Edinburgh climbed one place to fourth, while Manchester dropped two places to fifth.

Two other institutions in the capital make the top 10 for research power. King’s College London climbed five places to sixth, after improving its GPA while submitting more people. Imperial College London was eighth, down one place on 2008.

Rank on research power 2014

RankInstitutionResearch power (GPA x FTE staff submitted)  Rank on research power 20082014 rank order by GPA
1University College London 8,2614=8
2University of Oxford 8,04714
3University of Cambridge 6,95225
4University of Edinburgh 5,5755=11
5University of Manchester 4,933317
6King’s College London 4,422117
7University of Nottingham 4,3406=26
8Imperial College London 4,22372
9University of Bristol 3,61810=11
10University of Leeds 3,5978=21

Meanwhile, Manchester was not the only leading northern institution to suffer on the research power ranking. In the top 10, the University of Nottingham slipped one place to seventh, while the University of Leeds was two places down in 10th. The University of Sheffield dropped four places to 13th.

The grade point average ranking was topped by London institutions – the Institute of Cancer Research, Imperial College London, and the London School of Economics.

David Price, UCL’s vice-provost (research), said the performance of London universities was testament to the enduring attractiveness of the capital in the face of challenges such as property costs.

“London is a place where people like to live because it’s a global city, with global amenities, and it is therefore an attractive place for people to come from around to the world to be in,” he said. “It’s the centre of all the other networks; so many professional bodies are in London, so many corporate headquarters are based in London.”

Professor Price claimed that the REF results indicated that UCL had achieved the aim of its founders to create the UK’s best university.

Highlighting the importance of scale, he added: “One of the things that a university is aiming to address are major structural challenges, which are not solved by any one discipline, so we have to have excellence across the spectrum, in depth and in disciplines, to address the challenges the world faces.”

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Reader's comments (1)

Quiz question: which university has the highest ranked business and management school by research power, then ? Quiz answer: find out for yourself, but readers of this column might be surprised.