National acclaim for University of Chester’s research expertise

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The results of the 2021 Research Excellence Framework (REF) have demonstrated clear and consistent improvements in both the volume and quality of research produced across the University of Chester.

Published today (Thursday May 12), the results show that 51% of research has been assessed as world leading or internationally excellent, compared to 31% in the first REF in 2014.

Additionally, the number of University staff who submitted research almost doubled, with an 85% increase from the previous assessment in 2014. The University also submitted its highest ever number of units, or subjects, for review – all of which showed a stronger performance than seven years’ ago. This will help secure more research funding for the University and enhance its reputation nationally and internationally.

Additional highlights include:

  • Exceptional results in Arts and Humanities. This included subjects as diverse as: archaeological research on a Mesolithic site; studies on minorities in the First World War; publications and an online archive of the artwork of 19th-century cartoonist Marie Duval; and explorations of various aspects of equality and diversity in history, culture and society. In particular, Theology and Religious Studies was ranked in the highest quartile nationally, with 88% of its research assessed as world leading or internationally excellent. In ‘Area Studies’, 87.5% of publications were ranked as internationally excellent or world-leading, advancing human understanding of the role of literature, history, gender, culture and languages across Latin America, Europe and Africa.
  • A stand-out performance from Allied Health Professions, the University’s largest submission to REF2021, saw 67% of its overall research assessed as world leading or internationally excellent (rising from 41% in 2014). Furthermore, 66.7% of its work in the Impact category was assessed as world leading or internationally excellent and 100% of its work in the research environment category was assessed as world leading or internationally excellent. A case study submitted from the University’s Allied Health Unit reported on the development, delivery and impact of the Global Health Assessment Tool (GMHAT). This has reshaped the identification of mental health disorders worldwide, been translated into more than 10 languages and been used by the Home Office and Public Health England to address the unmet mental health needs of migrants arriving in the UK.
  • In Business and Management, 75% of research submitted to the Impact category was assessed as world leading or internationally excellent. Chester Business School’s (CBS) research into Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) networks, decision making, inclusion and wellbeing, helped engage and cultivate relationships with a diverse range of hard-to-reach entrepreneurs and SME owner-managers more effectively. By working closely with key economic stakeholders (Local Enterprise Partnerships – LEPs, local authorities, and chambers of commerce) CBS deployed the largest portfolio of publicly funded SME support programmes of any UK Business School, to drive the economic potential of these businesses.
  • Sports and Exercise Science, where 100% of work in the Impact category was classified as internationally excellent. Research involved the development and roll-out of the first standardised collection of testing data for the physical characteristics of rugby league players to help improve their performance, which was adopted UK-wide by the Rugby Football League.
  • In both Maths and Engineering more than 80% of outputs were classified as either world-leading or internationally excellent. For example, as part of the University’s commitment to decarbonisation and the promotion of clean energy, one impact case study focused on cryogenic carbon capture from difficult industrial CO2 emitters.

A national exercise assessing the quality of academic research, the REF was introduced to ensure UK higher education institutions continue providing world class and impactful research, and that public funds for research are effectively allocated.

These latest results sit alongside the University’s recent success in the Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF), in which it scored in the top 30% of higher education institutions for working with business, and the top 40% for research partnership and skills, enterprise and regeneration.

Research of societal value is central both to the mission of the University of Chester and the student experience. The institution has recruited academics with research interests to match the development of the curriculum, existing staff are actively encouraged to pursue research as part of their professional development and support is offered to those seeking to embark on careers as researchers.

The University recently adopted a research strategy which focuses on undertaking work with measurable impact. This includes establishing Research and Knowledge Exchange Institutes (RKEIs) across four themes: culture and society, health and wellbeing, sustainability and environment and the regional economy.

Professor Eunice Simmons, Vice-Chancellor at the University of Chester, said: “Congratulations to all staff who contributed to REF2021 for their dedication towards producing a culture of continual improvement. This is a hugely encouraging outcome, as the University continues to transform both the quantity and quality of its research, clearly and consistently, to benefit the local community and beyond, while also providing an outstanding student experience.

“With a five-fold increase in research and knowledge exchange income from £2 million to nearly £10 million in the previous decade, I anticipate that these results will enable us to go from strength to strength.”

Professor Paul Bissell, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research and Innovation at the University of Chester, added: “Following on from our outstanding results in the Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF) in 2021, we are implementing our strategy to enhance research outcomes right across the institution. Today’s results give us a fantastic platform on which to build our research in advance of the next REF exercise. It is particularly pleasing to witness inter-disciplinary collaborations, which help solve real-world problems creatively and holistically.

“In my short time at the University of Chester, I have seen huge energy, interest and enthusiasm around research, and I intend to harness this to drive forward our research over the next decade.”

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