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The Policy Institute at King’s College London and RAND Europe undertook a preliminary analysis of the characteristics of high-performing research units within UK higher education institutions. In particular, the report looks at characteristics shared between research units whose submissions in the Research Excellence Framework 2014 scored highly in the areas of research and impact, and identifies aspects of characterisation that merit further investigation.

A combination of quantitative data analysis across all eligible staff, interviews and a workshop with individuals from high-performing research units, along with a review of existing literature, were undertaken. Eight observations associated with high research performance were identified which warrant further investigation:

  • in high-performing research units more of the staff have PhDs, professorial positions, international experience and externally funded salaries
  • high-performing research units are focused on recruiting the best staff and retaining them
  • high-performing research units provide training and mentorship programmes to develop staff, while offering rewards for strong performance
  • staff in high-performing research units display a distinct ethos of social and ethical values
  • the leaders of high-performing research units have earned ‘accountable autonomy’ within their higher education institution
  • high-performing research units have strategies that are real, living and owned and more than merely a written document
  • high-performing research units receive more income per researcher than the average research unit
  • high-performing research units enable and encourage researchers to initiate collaborations organically as opposed to using a top-down approach.

The report will be of interest to anyone involved in managing and funding research or facilitating high performance in research and, more broadly, those in the higher education sector.

Date: 17 November 2015

Ref: Independent research

Enquiries should be directed to:

researchpolicy@hefce.ac.uk