Faculty of Social Sciences recognised for research quality and impact

The results of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021 have demonstrated the high quality and the significance of the impact of the research undertaken in the Faculty of Social Sciences.

The REF is the system for assessing the quality and impact of research in UK higher education institutions along with the environment that supports this research. 

87% of research activity submitted by the Faculty to the REF was rated overall as either “world-leading” or “internationally excellent”.

Commenting on the results, Professor Stuart Lister, Pro-Dean for Research and Innovation in the Faculty of Social Sciences, said: 

“Everyone in the Faculty is rightly very proud of the quality of the research we carry out, and which today has been formally recognised by the Research Excellence Framework.

“Making a positive difference is at the heart of what we aspire to do, and these results show that the research of social scientists at the University of Leeds is doing precisely that, notably by addressing a range of pressing societal challenges, at local, national and global scales.

“Our approach to research is highly collaborative, and we would be unable to produce the same impact from our research without the support, commitment and contribution of our partners, including other research institutions as well a wide range of governmental, private and civic society organisations.

“These excellent results are also testament to the outstanding support provided to our academic researchers by professional services colleagues in the Faculty and the wider University. They are, without doubt, the sum of a huge collective effort that supports and sustains our research and innovation activity – and I would like to thank everyone in our community for their tremendous contribution to the Faculty’s REF submission.”

Research quality and impact

Researchers in the Faculty of Social Sciences conduct research that is conceptually rich, theoretically informed, empirically rigorous, and which addresses a wide range of societal challenges, thereby expanding academic knowledge and positively impacting upon people’s lives.

The REF 2021 results reaffirm that, as a Faculty, we are delivering on this vision, tackling important questions with educational, social, political and legal dimensions and working in partnership with local, national and international stakeholders to inform public policy, lead academic debate and shape social research.

For the REF 2021 submission, research and impact from our Schools of Education, Law, Politics and International Studies, and Sociology and Social Policy were assessed by four disciplinary units, known as Units of Assessment (UoAs): UoAs 18 Law, 19 Politics and International Studies, 21 Sociology, and 23 Education. At the University of Leeds, only these Schools were entered into these UoAs.

In sum, the proportion of the overall research quality profile for each UoA graded as “world leading” or “internationally excellent” was 81% for Education, 80% for Sociology, 89% for Politics and International Studies, and 92% for Law.

The results from all four UoA submissions show that 100% of our Impact Case Studies, submitted to demonstrate how, and in what ways, our research has real world impact, were rated as either “world leading” or “internationally excellent”.

Other notable successes include: 

  • Law:  100% of its impact case studies were identified as “world leading” and 86% of research outputs were rated as “world leading” or “internationally excellent”.
  • Education: 68% of submitted research outputs were rated as “world leading” or “internationally excellent”, including 30% rated as “world leading”, the highest rating attainable.
  • Politics and International Studies: 81% of submitted research outputs were rated as “world leading” or “internationally excellent”.
  • Sociology: 67% of submitted research outputs were rated as “world leading” or “internationally excellent”, including 40% rated as “world leading”, the highest rating attainable.
  • We look forward to building on these successes and continuing to work with our partners to translate the research we produce into real world solutions.

Across the four Schools of the Faculty, the fifteen impact case studies that were entered into the REF demonstrated the positive effects of research on diverse policy and practice contexts in the public, private and voluntary sectors, for example, in the areas of disability rights, discrimination, national tax systems, access to education, childhood poverty, green-financing, and democratic participation, amongst many others.

Example case studies of University of Leeds research impact submitted for REF 2021 are available on the University’s REF 2021 website.

Research environment and culture

The REF 2021 results demonstrate the Faculty of Social Sciences’ ability to attract world-class talent, from staff to doctoral students. Pivotal to this is our research environment, which supports all researchers to fulfil their ambitions and deliver research excellence, impact and value. Across the four UoAs into which our research was entered, the research environment was assessed as 100% “world leading” or “international excellent”.

Equally, the Faculty places great emphasis on nurturing a positive and inclusive research culture, which values diverse strengths and all contributions to research, and which fosters mutually-supportive ways of working to enrich and enable our research activities. A crucial aspect of this research culture, as recognised by the REF Environment ratings, is the support we give to doctoral students and Early Career Researchers – and the emphasis we place on ensuring that outstanding training and professional development opportunities are available to all our staff and students.

Professor Simone Buitendijk, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leeds, said: “The University is a values driven organisation that works with academic, governmental, industrial and third sector partners to deliver world changing research and create a fairer future for all.

“That is why it is so encouraging that the REF 2021 results show we continue to provide research that is shaping the world around us for the better.

“The results are a testament to the hard work of our researchers, professional services staff and Unit of Assessment leads. I thank everyone who was involved in this monumental effort.”

Further information

For media enquiries contact the University of Leeds press office via pressoffice@leeds.ac.uk.

View the University of Leeds results for all units of assessment.