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The analysis will be of interest to those involved in managing and funding research, facilitating high performance in research and the higher education sector more broadly [Note 1].

HEFCE commissioned the Policy Institute at King’s College London and RAND Europe to examine characteristics shared between high-performing research units, using results from the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014 to identify high performance. A combination of data analysis, a review of the literature, interviews and a workshop with individuals from high-performing research units identified five key themes associated with high performance:

  • people
  • culture, values and leadership
  • strategy and funding
  • collaboration and networks
  • institutional and departmental practice.

The great value of investment in research is emphasised in the report, with a direct correlation between high research income per head and excellent research performance. The highest-performing research units reported strategies that emphasised the importance of maintaining financial stability and seeking diverse funding streams.

Many of the individuals interviewed saw ‘people’ – including recruiting and the retaining the best staff – as a key pre-requisite characteristic of success. The report highlights the UK’s ability to attract excellent academics from overseas as a significant contribution to excellent research performance. High-performing units have a high percentage of internationally mobile academics, recruiting world-leading researchers from an international pool.

Staff in high-performing research units were found to display a distinct ethos of social and ethical values with living research strategies truly ‘owned’ by the unit.

Dr Catriona Manville, Senior Research Analyst at RAND Europe, said:

‘Whether having a shared value system or strategies in place that emphasise the importance of maintaining financial stability and seeking diverse funding streams, high-performing research units share characteristics that if implemented elsewhere could help deliver excellent research.’

 David Sweeney, Director, Research, Education and Knowledge Exchange at HEFCE said:

‘The importance of research income, and of attracting the very best researchers from around the world, is invaluable to the strength of the UK HE research base. This report helpfully considers key features of the UK’s high-performing research units and paves the way for further investigation.’

 

Notes

  1. Characteristics of high-performing research units’ is available online.