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West Midlands universities make it on to top ranked list for research

Two universities from the West Midlands are named in a list of the best in the country for research.

Andy Morrin, right, demonstrates the VR simulator to University of Birmingham Chancellor Lord Karan Bilimoria at the University of Birmingham Dubai campus

UK universities’ research excellence is evenly spread across the four nations of the UK, according to a report out today. Experts state this will help with the Government levelling up agenda.

While Oxford heads the list, there are a wide variety of universities within the top 30 list. University of Birmingham comes 11th and University of Warwick 16th.

The Research Excellence Framework, which covers 157 universities submitting the work of 76,000 academic staff, found that overall, 41 per cent of submitted research was ‘world-leading’, while a further 43 per cent was ‘internationally excellent’. At least 15 per cent of research was considered world-leading in three-quarters of the UK’s universities, while more than 80 per cent of research was judged world-leading or internationally excellent across each UK nation and English region.

UCL is second on the list, followed by Cambridge, Edinburgh and Manchester.

University of Birmingham’s Centre for Patient-Reported Outcomes Research last month published work on long Covid, developing a comprehensive tool to help health professinals assess symptoms in patients.

While universities in the Russell Group were ranked highly, other universities, such as Northumbria, had leaped up the rankings.

Northumbria University recorded the largest growth in research power, moving up 27 places to 23rd across the UK from its previous position in 2014.

Vice-Chancellor, Andrew Wathey, said that the outcome “moves us clearly into territory formerly the preserve of the Russell Group of universities”.

“Northumbria is the first modern university to cross the clear, blue water that separated the old and the new parts of the sector, and others are following,” he added.

Northumbria previously rose from 80th place to 50th in 2014, during the last REF. The university said that this made Newcastle, where Northumbria University is situated, combined with Durham, a “northern research powerhouse”, with the largest city-area concentration of researchers outside London.

“This is important for the economy of the North East, for inward investment - public and private - for future collaboration between the universities and business, and for the levelling up impacts of research,” Professor Wathey added.

Steven Hill, research director at Research England, said: “I think that the UK research system is well placed to meet the Government’s ambitions for levelling up”.

Sarah Richardson, editor of Research Professional News, said their analysis showed the top universities had lost some of their market share of research excellence.

Between them, Oxford, UCL, Cambridge, King’s, Imperial and LSE had lost 2.4 percentage points of market share between 2014 and 2021, she said, while the universities increasing in market share by at least 0.3 percentage points were Northumbria, Exeter, Manchester Metropolitan, Liverpool and Cardiff.

She said that the gap between the top universities and others across the country “looks narrower”, and that “it’s enough of a shift to suggest an encouraging trend, that the rest of the country is closer to those institutions than previously thought”.

“What the REF does is, it will highlight where there’s already excellent research taking place around the country,” she said, adding that the shift predated the Government’s “huge focus” on levelling up.

The Government might see the results from universities around the country as a way of furthering this agenda, where there were “pockets of excellence that have gone below the radar”, she said.

Oxford University had the highest volume of world-leading research, and made the largest submission of research compared with any other university, submitting more than 3,600 researchers into 29 subject areas.

Professor Louise Richardson, the university’s vice-chancellor, said that the results showed Oxford was a “research powerhouse”.

Here are the top 30 universities in their ranking:

1. University of Oxford

2. University College London

3. University of Cambridge

4. University of Edinburgh

5. University of Manchester

6. King's College London

7. Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine

8. University of Bristol

9. University of Nottingham

10. University of Leeds

11. University of Birmingham

12. University of Sheffield

13. University of Glasgow

14. Cardiff University

15. University of Southampton

16. University of Warwick

17. University of Newcastle upon Tyne

18. University of Exeter

19. University of Liverpool

20. Queen Mary University of London

21. University of Durham

22. University of York

23. University of Lancaster

24. Queen's University of Belfast

25. Loughborough University

26. London School of Economics

27. University of Sussex

28. University of Northumbria at Newcastle

29. University of East Anglia

30. University of Bath

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