Research Excellence Framework

18 December 2014

Russell Group universities responsible for vast majority of UK’s world-leading research

Despite making up just 15% of higher education institutions in the UK, the 24 Russell Group universities produce:

  • 68% of the country’s world-leading (4*) research across the whole range of disciplines.
  • 68% of the research deemed to have had outstanding (4*) impact in terms of its reach and significance.
  • Three quarters of the research environments deemed conducive to producing world-leading (4*) research are in Russell Group universities

Commenting on the results of the 2014 Research Excellence Framework, Dr Wendy Piatt, Director-General of the Russell Group of Universities, said:

“Whichever way you cut the data, Russell Group universities produce the vast majority of the UK’s world-leading research. Despite making up just 15% of higher education institutions in the UK, the 24 Russell Group universities produce 68% of the country’s world-leading research, as well as 68% of the research with outstanding impact, across the whole range of disciplines.

“Russell Group universities not only produce excellent research, but produce it on a grand scale – the volume of world-leading research in Russell Group universities is more than double that in other universities. And there are real added benefits to nurturing high concentrations of research excellence across a range of disciplines. A critical mass of research expertise and resources provides a firm foundation for innovative, interdisciplinary research collaborations that are the key to solving global challenges. It also attracts international and business investment for research and makes our universities crucial catalysts for regional economic growth in the UK.

“Furthermore, 68% of the research deemed to have had outstanding (4*) impact in terms of its reach and significance is produced at Russell Group universities. The economic and social impact of our research is far-reaching, life-changing and invaluable ranging from research that has prevented tens of thousands of ‘cot deaths’ worldwide to research that has led to the adoption of Fairtrade practices in the African cocoa industry.

“The continued strength of the UK’s research base and ability to innovate requires increased investment and a concentration of limited funds on major centres of excellence. Our key international competitors have wisely adopted this policy, pumping billions into their best universities in order to drive economic growth and raise health, education and other societal standards. UK research spending is currently far behind that of China, the USA and many European nations – with R&D expenditure of 1.73% of GDP the UK is on a par with Ireland and Norway. The UK will not be strengthened by spreading limited funds more thinly and diluting the creative power of world-class universities – particularly at a time when income streams are under threat, costs are escalating and international competition is increasing."

Headline figures

  • The 24 Russell Group universities produce 68% of the country’s world-leading (4*) research.
  • Overall, 37% of research at Russell Group universities is 4* rated compared to 21% for other universities. This means that almost twice as much world-leading research is conducted in Russell Group universities than other universities.
  • 68% of the research deemed to have had outstanding (4*) impact in terms of its reach and significance.
  • More than half of research in Russell Group universities results in outstanding impact, compared to less than a third in other universities.
  • Three quarters of the research environments deemed conducive to producing world-leading (4*) research are in Russell Group universities.
  • Russell Group universities are more than twice as likely to provide the most conducive environments for 4* research.

Notes to Editors

  1.  The UK’s spending on research and development as a proportion of GDP fell from 1.78% in 2011 to 1.73% in 2012. This is well below the EU average of 1.98% in 2012 (up from 1.95% in 2011), the spending of 1.98% by China (up from 1.84% in 2011) and the US investment of 2.79% (up from 2.76% in 2011). Source
  2. Public research funding in the UK is distributed through a balanced combination of annual grants direct to institutions (on the basis of RAE/REF outcomes) and grants to researchers through the Research Councils (competitively awarded follow a peer-reviewed process).
  3. Our report, Jewels in the Crown, sets out how leading research-intensive universities have the critical mass of research to generate huge impact, link the UK into global knowledge networks, attract investment and exploit technological breakthroughs for economic success.
  4. Read our reports on the economic and social impact of research in Russell Group universities.

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