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Ref ranking: education

How the universities did when it came to research in education

All the top education departments with ELT-related Master’s listed here had research assessed as world-class and/or internationally excellent by the REF. While the Russell Group universities (in black) dominate the top 10, both the ‘plate glass’ universities founded in the 1960s (in blue) and the post-1992 universities (in red) are on the rise.

  • University of Oxford
  • University of Birmingham
  • University of York
  • King’s College London
  • UCL Institute of Education
  • University of Bristol
  • University of Manchester
  • University of Glasgow
  • University of Nottingham
  • Queen’s University Belfast
  • University of Warwick
  • University of Roehampton
  • University of Edinburgh
  • University of Bath
  • University of Sterling
  • Ulster University
  • University of Leeds
  • University of Exeter
  • Sheffield Hallam University
  • Open University

Case study: Sheffield Hallam

One reason the newer universities are on the rise is that the REF 2021 paid less attention to ‘research power’, which counts the sheer amount of research done, and laid more emphasis on the social and economic impact of the work.

To demonstrate their impact, universities were required to submit case studies which showed both the reach of their work and its significance. For newer universities like Sheffield Hallam, which already ran successful education projects around the world, it gave them a chance to have that work recognised.

“We already knew that local, national and international communities, policymakers and practitioners valued our work, but it’s always good to have this validated externally,” Professor Mark Boylan, of the Sheffield Institute of Education told the Gazette, picking out its work in disability studies, higher education and TESOL as prime examples.

In essence, the REF 2021 emphasised the application of research, as Nick Moore, leader of the MA TESOL, explains: “The strong performance for Sheffield Hallam University in the latest REF exercise shows how our research strengths lie in the application of knowledge. For the Sheffield Institute of Education, our research has had a significant impact on a wide range of educational contexts. Our TESOL team includes researchers who have contributed to these impacts …developing TESOL-related research in teacher education, reading and writing skills, and the role of language in classrooms.”

Melanie Butler
Melanie Butler
Melanie started teaching EFL in Iran in 1975. She worked for the BBC World Service, Pearson/Longman and MET magazine before taking over at the Gazette in 1987 and also launching Study Travel magazine. Educated in ten schools in seven countries, she speaks fluent French and Spanish and rather rusty Italian.
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