Economy Minister Gordon Lyons has welcomed the strong performance of Northern Ireland's Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in the Research Excellence Framework 2021 (REF).
The UK-wide REF provides a rigorous assessment of the quality and impact of universities' research across all subject areas. A total of 157 UK universities participated in REF, with submissions assessed by a series of expert panels comprising UK and international researchers, external users of research and experts in interdisciplinary research. Queen's University, Ulster University and Stranmillis University College all participated in REF 2021.
One of the key findings of the REF 2021 was that, when benchmarked against international standards, 38% of the research submitted to REF by the Northern Ireland HEIs was assessed as "world-leading" (4*), an improvement on the 30% of research assessed to be of this quality in the previous REF 2014 exercise. REF 2021 assessed a further 49% of Northern Ireland HEIs; research as 'Internationally excellent' (3*), again an improvement on the 46% achieved in this respect in the REF 2014.
Commenting on the REF results, Minister Lyons said: "Our HEIs are to be congratulated on their excellent REF results, which demonstrate the quality and diversity of research conducted across our institutions. The results provide evidence of the strength and impact of the research base in our institutions, with the vast majority of our HEIs' research judged to be either world-leading or internationally excellent.
"This excellent performance is underpinned by significant improvements across a range of subject areas since the previous exercise in 2014. This illustrates both the depth and breadth of our HEIs' research excellence, from Allied Health Professions, Dentistry, Nursing and Pharmacy to Agriculture, Food and Veterinary Sciences, and from Computer Science and Physics, to Engineering to Law."
REF 2021 also captures the real life benefits and impacts of the research undertaken by the local institutions to our society and economy, with the case studies submitted under REF demonstrating a diverse range of impacts, from the development of new technologies which will help to drive our economy, to key medical advances.
Minister Lyons concluded: "The results reflect the hard work and talent of our institutions' researchers, whilst also helping to demonstrate the significant return on public investment in research, in terms of both its role in delivering societal benefits and in supporting delivery of the Department's innovation driven vision to deliver a ten times better economy with benefits for all of the people of Northern Ireland.
"The annual core research funding provided to the Northern Ireland HEIs by my Department plays a key role in sustaining much of our universities' research activity, by supporting the research infrastructure in the institutions and by enabling them to maintain research capacity. I am delighted that this underpinning funding has provided a firm foundation which has assisted our local researchers in achieving the impressive REF 2021 results realised by the Northern Ireland institutions."