Oxford beats Cambridge to top research ranking

Oxford University has overtaken Cambridge to take the number one ranking for the quality and extent of its research.

The Higher Education Funding Council for England’s Research Excellence Framework measured the quality of research from more than 52,000 academics in 154 universities to reveal that Oxford has the largest volume of world-leading research in the country.

Oxford performed well across the board in the rankings produced by Research Fortnight, ranking research across 31 academic practices including the medical sciences, humanities, the social sciences and maths, physics, and the life sciences.

In the new category for this year, measuring the “impact” of research, Oxford was commended for its role in producing a new natural malaria treatment which has saved millions of lives.

The news was welcomed with enthusiasm by academics from Oxford and beyond. Professor Andrew Hamilton, the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University, said: “I welcome our superb REF results, which clearly reflect our outstanding world-leading research. It is pleasing to be ranked in first place, but even more pleasing to see recognition of the fantastic contribution Oxford researchers make to knowledge across a huge range of subjects and of the real impact they have on health, prosperity, policy formation and culture around the world.

“It is vital — if the full economic, social and cultural benefits of this research excellence at Oxford, and elsewhere in the higher education sector are to be realised — that strong and sustained public investment in leading university research is maintained and indeed increased.”

Louis Trup, OUSU President, was also pleased with Oxford’s performance, posting on Twitter that “Oxford absolutely bossed #REF2014 – well done everyone”.

The results of the REF are to be used by the four UK higher education funding bodies to allocate £2 billion of block-grant research funding to UK universities from 2015– 2016. As Oxford ranked first, it is set to accept the largest share of the funding, although the exact formula for calculating funding will not be announced until March.

As well as Oxford’s success, London’s elite universities performed well, with some arguing that this marked the end of blanket Oxbridge dominance.

Imperial College London now claims to have “the greatest concentration of high-impact research”. By some methods of analysis, University College London rated higher than Oxbridge, claiming to be the top-rated university for “research strength”. And King’s College London rose to sixth position in the power ranking, putting it among the top 10 of universities with the highest proportion of world-leading research, along with Imperial, LSE and UCL.

One Cambridge graduate now taking a Master’s at UCL said: “It’s easy to feel the difference in atmosphere at Cambridge, which can be quite undergraduate-oriented and less forward-thinking in the way it approaches research. UCL has the atmosphere of a place where serious research gets done, rather than punting and partying.”

Oxford students appeared to be less concerned by the rise of London’s elite universities, with one second-year history student saying: “I don’t really care, so long as we beat Cambridge – besides, from what I can establish we’re at the top of the table by quite a considerable margin.”

HEFCE are due to release the exact funding that universities will receive in the Spring.

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