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Today the UK Funding Bodies have published the outcomes of the recent national research assessment exercise, the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021. REF is the UK-wide assessment of research in universities, and provides an expert evaluation of the quality of the research outputs, impact and environment at subject level in each university.

A collage of images of people working in labs in the medical sciences © John Cairns & Fisher Studios

Research in the Medical Sciences Division (MSD) was in most cases submitted to four of REF’s Units of Assessment (UAO): Clinical Medicine (UOA1); Public Health, Health Services and Primary Care (UOA2); Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience (UOA4), and Biological Sciences (UOA5), the latter together with research in the Departments of Zoology and Plant Sciences. The Division also made smaller contributions to other UOAs, ranging from Engineering to Philosophy, reflecting Oxford’s interdisciplinary nature.  

Across these four UOAs, the University submitted more than 2,750 papers and other outputs from 1,230 researchers. Over 90% of these outputs were assessed as being world-leading or internationally-excellent (4* or 3*).

In addition to outputs, the University submitted 47 case studies to the four UOAs. Over 80% of the impact set out in these case studies was assessed to be outstanding (4*, the highest score available).  A few of the case studies are included in a selection of highlights that the University is showcasing; the full set will be published on the REF website over the summer.  

Science is almost always a team endeavour. Analysis of these case studies shows that they represent the direct work of at least 1,500 people across all 16 of our departments, very often working with trial participants, collaborators and partners. They include students and postdoctoral researchers; specialists in laboratory, data and regulatory procedures; clinical staff; project and trial coordinators; and public engagement practitioners. Yet more will have supported these projects through roles in finance, buildings, commercialisation, human resources, libraries and many other functions essential for our success.    

These diverse and expert contributions were also captured by our four submissions to the Environment strand of REF, where we were assessed for the ‘vitality and sustainability’ of our research environment. Three of our four research environment submissions received the highest score possible with the fourth close behind.

"Everyone in the Medical Sciences Division should be proud of the part they have played in achieving these excellent results," said Professor Gavin Screaton, the Head of Division. Submitting such a huge body of work – which remains only a small subset of our activity – in the midst of a global pandemic, and against appropriately exacting standards, was an enormous task in itself. Professor Screaton thanked all staff, saying "From nominating and reviewing research papers, to evidencing the route from research to impact, and from ensuring accurate data to helping authors publish their work with open access, I am immensely grateful for this work and the insight it gives us into the ways we advance medical and biological sciences".