REF 2021: Increased impact weighting helps push up scores

Greater weighting helps medical institutions in particular improve overall positions

May 12, 2022
REF 2021 impact case studies show ‘real differences made to people’s lives’
Source: Getty

Giving added weight to the impact of research has helped push up scores in the Research Excellence Framework.

The 2021 exercise was the second time that the economic and social contribution of research output was taken into account and it was given a greater weight of 25 per cent this time around, compared with 20 per cent in 2014.

As in the 2014 exercise, impact tended to be rated more highly than outputs. The respective average scores in 2021 stood at 3.35 and 3.16, compared with 3.24 and 2.90 in 2014.

Full REF 2021 table for outputs

Full REF 2021 table for impact

Full REF 2021 table for environment

In total, expert panels reviewed 6,781 submitted impact case studies to make their assessments.

“The real differences made to people’s lives, both across the UK and around the world, that are narrated through the impact case studies are in many cases humbling and, in our current times, a significant example of this is provided in our universities’ outstanding contribution to the Covid pandemic,” said Steven Hill, director of research at Research England.

Times Higher Education’s analysis shows medical institutions continuing to perform very highly on impact, mirroring the 2014 picture. Overall, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) held the highest impact GPA with 3.78, up slightly on 3.74 in 2014.

The Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, the Institute of Cancer Research, Imperial College London and UCL made up the rest of the top five.

Strong performance on impact helped many universities improve their overall scores, with 93 scoring higher on impact than they did on outputs.

The University of Wales Trinity Saint David saw the biggest variation, with a 2.97 impact GPA compared with a 2.34 output GPA, a difference of 0.63.

LSHTM’s overall score was also boosted by its strong showing on impact; its 3.78 impact GPA was 0.59 higher than its output GPA of 3.19.

UK-wide research quality ratings hit new high in expanded assessment
Who's up, who’s down? See how your institution performed in REF 2021

Russell Group universities that scored significantly higher on impact than they did on outputs included the University of Southampton, King’s College London and Cardiff University.

At the other end of the scale, the London School of Economics’ output GPA of 3.5 was second highest overall after Imperial College London but its impact GPA of 3.47 was 0.03 lower, and 25th overall.

Heriot-Watt University ranked 33rd for output, with a GPA of 3.22, but 65th for impact, with a GPA of 3.14, a difference of 0.08.

Methodology: how THE calculates its REF tables

When impact was first introduced into the REF in 2014, some expected that it would boost the fortunes of post-92 universities and secure them higher positions in the rankings, although it was generally felt not to have had as much of an influence as expected.

“The impact story is a good one and builds on the achievements demonstrated in 2014,” said David Sweeney, executive chair of Research England.


Print headline: Impact emphasis raises scores

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