Scotland

Scottish university research praised

The range and quality of research at Scotland's universities has been praised in a new UK-wide survey.

Most Scottish universities have maintained or improved their standing in the league table.

Overall Edinburgh University came out in 4th place while Glasgow University was 13th.

More than 85% of university research in Scotland was judged to have an outstanding or very significant impact in wider society and economy.

This figure was higher than the UK average.

The analysis, produced by Research Fortnight, was based on the results of the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF 2014).

This was a large-scale exercise which reviewed the quality of research in different subjects at universities across the UK.

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption The University of Edinburgh was placed fourth in the UK and top in Scotland

Panels of experts scored the work of more than 52,000 academics from 154 UK universities.

Both Edinburgh and Glasgow Universities moved up one place in the table compared to the last one in 2008.

St Andrews, Strathclyde, Aberdeen, Dundee, Heriot-Watt and Stirling also made the top 50.

Strathclyde's physics department was named as the best in the UK - ahead of Oxford, Cambridge and Imperial College.

Aberdeen and Dundee both slipped back slightly in the overall rankings, while the others moved up.

Broadly speaking, the data suggested Scottish universities have maintained or even improved their research rankings since tuition fees for Scottish students were abolished.

International rankings also suggest the broad position of Scottish universities is being maintained.

Every one of Scotland's 18 higher education institutions undertakes research judged to be of "world-leading" quality while Scotland performs more highly than the UK average when assessed on the impact of its research.

For the first time, REF 2014 also assessed the impact the research has had on the economy, society, public policy, culture and the quality of life.

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Glasgow University moved up one place to 13th in the Uk

Laurence Howells, chief executive of the Scottish Funding Council, said: "Today we have had confirmation that our universities' research is world-leading and impacts on almost every aspect of daily life, from the way we treat patients in hospital, to the way we communicate with smartphones.

"By making the most of our investments in research, Scotland's universities are rightly on the podium with the best in the world. It is particularly satisfying that Scotland's pioneering approach to collaboration through research pooling has helped to bring this success in the REF."

Each of the University of Edinburgh's three colleges had at least one research area ranked top in the UK.

Edinburgh research in Sociology, in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences and in Computer Science and Informatics was rated the best in the UK, based on breadth and quality of research.

The principal, Prof Sir Timothy O'Shea, said: "Research at the University of Edinburgh is constantly expanding the depth of human knowledge and making an impact on the wider world - whether it be improving the effectiveness of youth justice policy and practice, or shaping the technologies used to manage the world's data.

"Our outstanding researchers enable us to forge links with charities, businesses, policy makers and other universities, so that together we can tackle long-standing challenges at home and overseas."

Staff numbers

The University of Glasgow said its achievements included pioneering research in medicine with new drugs and treatments; software revolutionising the design of electric motors; new ways of controlling animal diseases including TB in cattle and rabies; a positive impact on knife crime policy; and assisting the transformation of Stirling Castle into one of the UK's leading heritage sites.

Principal and vice-chancellor Prof Anton Muscatelli said: "It is particularly pleasing that, in line with the aspirations of the university set out in the university's 2020 Global Vision, 31% of our output was judged to be of 'world-leading' quality. This success lies at the very heart of our contribution to the UK's economy and, in particular, Scotland's economy."

The report was welcomed by Education Secretary Angela Constance, who said Scotland was "globally recognised for pioneering research", with four universities in the world's top 200.

This was more per head of population than any other country except Switzerland, she said.

Ms Constance added: "The 2014 Research Excellence Framework has now shown that all of our institutions are producing world-class research in a variety of areas.

"Research is also key to our economic growth and prosperity. Figures published earlier this year showed that our £124m investment in eight innovation centres has the potential to generate up to £1.5bn and around 5,000 jobs for the economy, through sectors such as energy, aquaculture and construction."

Staff numbers

However, the University and College Union warned that world-leading research was too often being conducted by people on zero-hours contracts.

It also warned institutions against using any perceived low scores as an excuse to consider reducing staff numbers.

The union added that lots of research not included or rated highly in the REF still made a hugely important contribution.

UCU Scotland official Mary Senior said: "Our universities must be free to continue pushing the boundaries in their cutting-edge work. We must also recognise that a lot of research not included or rated highly in the REF is still incredibly important.

"Too often our world-leading research is being conducted by people with little or no job security. Universities must avoid any knee-jerk reactions to the results or use perceived low scores to try and make unnecessary cuts.

"We are not alone in criticising what we see as a flawed process when it comes to the REF and have outlined the need for a fundamental overhaul of the research system. We want to see better funding that expands our research base, covering more institutions and more diverse areas of research."