Scottish research joins world leaders on the podium

2nd January 2015 at 00:00
Universities north of the border excel in UK-wide grading

A large proportion of Scottish education research has been classed as "world leading" by a UK-wide analysis.

Some two-thirds of all research pieces on education submitted by Scottish universities to the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF) were judged to be either world-leading (4*) or internationally excellent (3*). In the UK as a whole, a little more than half of education research was rated 4* or 3*.

At the University of Edinburgh, 43 per cent of education research received a 4* rating, while 32 per cent of the pieces submitted by the University of Glasgow were judged to be 4*.

But the real Scottish success story was Dundee University: 74 per cent of its education research output was rated world-class or internationally excellent, a huge jump from the 20 per cent it earned in the previous assessment exercise in 2008.

The results of the REF are important because they determine how much research funding is given to institutions, amounting to billions of pounds in the UK. REF scores also affect institutions' reputations and ability to attract academic staff.

The figures are calculated on a range of measures, including the amount of research published (output), its impact on society, and the vitality and sustainability of the research environment. "Output" is ranked from 4* - meaning world-leading quality of research in terms of originality, significance and rigour - to "unclassified", when it falls below the standard of nationally recognised work.

Professor Tim Kelly, dean of the School of Education, Social Work and Community Education at Dundee, told TESS that educational research had undergone "a tremendous period of growth and improvement" since 2008's assessment exercise.

"We are particularly proud of our research in games-based learning, peer learning, educational transitions and medical education," he said. Professor Kelly explained that the improvements followed a long-term and ongoing emphasis on building research capacity at the school.

"A number of strategies have been put in place since 2008 to increase the number of active researchers," he said. "These measures start with the recruitment process, through clear expectations of new and current staff in terms of research and scholarship, and then the provision of support and resources."

The school supports up to 15 members of staff a year on doctoral programmes, provides research mentoring, and runs training and staff seminars on research methods, as well as an annual school research conference.

The University of Edinburgh was also celebrating: it achieved a 100 per cent rating for the quality of its education research environment and scored highly on impact, too. "We are totally thrilled," said Dr Rowena Arshad, head of Moray House School of Education.

She added that the school's supportive environment had helped its score: peer mentoring had been introduced and colleagues read each other's draft papers.

Overall, the work of more than 52,000 academics from 154 UK universities was scored by a panel of experts. Across all subject areas, 22 per cent of research outputs were judged to be 4* - up from 14 per cent in 2008.

Laurence Howells, chief executive of the Scottish Funding Council, said the figures were "confirmation that our universities' research is world-leading and impacts on almost every aspect of daily life".

He added: "By making the most of our investments in research, Scotland's universities are rightly on the podium with the best in the world."


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