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HEFCE closed at the end of March 2018. The information on this website is historical and is no longer maintained.

Many of HEFCE's functions will be continued by the Office for Students, the new regulator of higher education in England, and Research England, the new council within UK Research and Innovation.

The HEFCE domain - - will continue to function until September 2018. At this point we will close the site entirely and all its information will only be available from the National Web Archive.


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Findings from the analysis show that high-performing research relies on two key conditions, supported by three ‘enabling’ characteristics.


People are one the central pre-requisites, in particular recruiting and retaining the best people.

The analysis suggests that a certain staff mix is associated with high performance:

  • staff who are research-trained (PhDs)
  • who are senior (professors)
  • who have international experience
  • whose salaries are funded by external sources.

Research culture, underlying values and leadership

The ‘glue’ that creates the high-performing research unit is its research culture, underlying values and leadership.


For more information about this research contact:

Tel: 0117 931 7302

The analysis shows that high-performance research units have a degree of earned or accountable autonomy. They are able to get on with what they were doing, and are successful due to their strong leadership and the research culture of the unit.

‘Enabling characteristics’

The three ‘enabling’ characteristics – shown in the outer circle of the diagram below– allow people and leadership to thrive. They are:

  • collaboration and networks
  • a coherent strategy and diverse funding sources
  • supporting institutional and departmental practices.

Characteristics of high-performing research units

Eight factors associated with high-performing research

  • 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 and retaining them.
  • High-performing research units provide training and mentorship programmes to develop staff, while offering rewards for strong performance.
  • Staff within 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.

Characteristics of high-performing research units. A preliminary analysis.’ was carried out by the Policy Institute at King’s College London and RAND Europe.

Page last updated 17 November 2015