Heriot-Watt Top in Research Excellence



REF 2021 Research Excellence Framework logo

University recognised for world-leading research in Physics; Mathematical Sciences; Engineering; and Architecture, Built Environment and Planning.

Heriot-Watt University is top in Scotland for its world-leading (4*) Physics research, in the REF 2021 results released today. Physics also came top in the UK for its world-leading research outputs and saw 97% of its research classed as world-leading and internationally excellent.

Overall, 86.8% of the university's research and 88.6% of its research outputs are classed as 'world-leading' (4*) and 'internationally excellent' (3*).

Three joint submissions between Heriot-Watt and the University of Edinburgh - in Mathematical Sciences; Engineering; and Architecture, Built Environment and Planning - were ranked in the top four in the UK, based on the quality and breadth of the combined research, as defined in the Times Higher Education REF Power rankings.

This ranked Mathematical Sciences and Engineering first in Scotland and third in the UK, with Architecture, Built Environment and Planning coming first in Scotland and fourth in the UK.

The REF provides a robust and thorough assessment of the quality of universities' research in all disciplines, providing accountability for public investment in research and demonstrating the benefits of that investment.

The REF results, announced Thursday, 12 May, are a valuable opportunity to measure the extent to which an institution's research strategy is working.

Professor Steve McLaughlin, Deputy Principal of Research and Impact said: “Our strong performance in the REF 2021 shows that our research, and our shared research, continues to go from strength-to-strength, focusing on major global challenges, interdisciplinarity and collaboration.

“Physics has done outstandingly well, and is an area of well-established excellence, further recognised in the 2021 Queen's Anniversary Prize for photonics.”

In total, 157 UK universities participated, submitting over 76,000 academic staff. Submissions included research outputs, examples of the wider benefits of research and evidence about the research environment. This material was assessed by a series of expert panels comprising UK and international researchers, external users of research and experts in interdisciplinary research.

Overall, the panels judged 41 per cent of the submitted work to be world-leading and a further 43 percent to be internationally excellent.  The assessment provides rich information on the strengths of UK university research that will be helpful for businesses and other users of research to identify potential partners.

Professor Richard A. Williams, Principal and Vice-Chancellor for Heriot-Watt University, said the achievement is testament to the commitment and determination of everyone at the university.  He adds: “Our achievements in the REF 2021 results reflect the marked growth in the influence of our specialist research, and the investment we are making into our global research capacity, which is integral to our Strategy 2025 theme of Excellence in Research and Enterprise.”

Speaking on behalf of the four UK higher education funding bodies, Steven Hill, Chair of the REF Steering Group and Director of Research at Research England, said:

“These results today reinforce the UK's position as a world leader in research, corroborating the views of international commentators and highlighting our trajectory towards global research leadership across a broad set of disciplines. They represent an exceptional achievement for UK university research and demonstrate the huge return on public investment in research.

“REF is at the forefront of approaches to capturing the impact from research and demonstrates a substantial range of benefits. The real differences made to people's lives, both across the UK and around the world, that are narrated through the impact case studies are in many cases humbling and, in our current times, a significant example of this is provided in our universities' outstanding contribution to the Covid pandemic.

“Universities and their staff have had to respond to the pandemic in multiple ways. Their commitment to working with the funding bodies to deliver REF 2021 has been considerable. The incredible contribution both of those making the submissions and of our expert panels, through these unprecedented times, has allowed us to deliver a rigorous and timely set of results.”

Further information on the REF21 results can be found here on the Heriot-Watt website.


Susan Kerr