REF 2021: thematic rankings | Times Higher Education (THE)


There has been a sharp increase in the amount of social science research subject to the Research Excellence Framework – but there is growing evidence of declining arts and humanities departments.

There were 658 submissions to Core Panel C – social sciences – for fiscal year 2021, by far the largest of the four subject areas reviewed by REF, and 44 more than fiscal year 2014.

By contrast, the number of submissions to Core Panel D, which covers the arts and humanities, fell by 28 to 554. A series of departmental closures in this area have been reported across the UK sector in recent years.

Submissions to Core Panel A (Medicine, Health and Life Sciences) remained stable at 312, and although there was a reduction in the number of submissions to Core Panel B (Physical Sciences, Engineering and Mathematics), reflecting probably merging four evaluation engineering units into one this time around. In total, there were 354 submissions to Main Panel B.

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The size of the UK social sciences is also reflected in the number of full-time equivalents subject to REF, with 23,451 now included in Core Panel C, up by 9,038 from 2014. Core Panels A and B also reported significant increases – up from 6,375 to 19,983 and from 5,046 to 18,393, respectively. While Core Panel D also reported an increase – likely a reflection of the requirement to submit all active research staff this time – the increase was much smaller, 3,612, bringing the total to 14,305.

All major panels reported an increase in grade point average (GPA). Main panel B led the way with 3.33 (up 0.26), ahead of main panel A with 3.29 – although its rise of 0.14 was the smallest of the four.

The average GPA was 3.2 for Main Panel D (up 0.25) and 3.14 for Main Panel C (up 0.24).

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Complete REF 2021 results by subject

Panel A

clinical medicine
Public health, health services and primary care
Allied Health Professions, Dentistry, Nursing and Pharmacy
Psychology, Psychiatry and Neurosciences
Biological Sciences
Agriculture, Food and Veterinary Sciences

Panel B

Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences
Mathematical Sciences
IT and IT

Panel C

Architecture, built environment and planning
Geography and Environmental Studies
Economics and econometrics
Business and management studies
Politics and International Studies
Social work and social policy
Anthropology and Development Studies
Sports and Exercise Sciences, Leisure and Tourism

Panel D

Regional Studies
Modern languages ​​and linguistics
English language and literature
Theology and religious studies
Art and design: history, practice and theory
Music, Drama, Dance, Performing Arts, Film and Film Studies
Communication, Cultural and Media Studies, Library and Information Management


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