LJMU submits 600 academics to Research Excellence Framework 2021

On March 25, the University hands over its best research to the 2021 Research Exercise Framework, the REF. With more than 600 academics put forward and dozens more colleagues behind the scenes, the REF is arguably the largest project undertaken by the university community.

We asked REF manager Diana Leighton and Research Director Keith George to explain how we more than doubled our cohort, what a REF Impact Case study is and to sum up seven years of blood, sweat and tears.


“IT HAS been a massive undertaking. We will have over 600 staff whose research outputs are included, while other staff will be contributing to impact case studies and to environment statements,” explained Keith.

“In 2014, we had just over 250 academic staff. That’s a substantial growth in the submission number.

“We’ve been working very hard internally to develop our centres of excellence and we’ve got some real key areas of growth and pockets of critical mass of staff who weren’t submitted in 2014.

Cultural shift

“I think there’s a cultural shift to understanding the value but also promoting the development of research at LJMU. I think it is a real, real testament to the University as a whole as well the individuals that we’ve got to this level of submission.”

“I’m exceptionally proud of everybody who contributes to the research and knowledge exchange agenda at LJMU and that includes a lot of people. Firstly, those people submitted have committed to being productive researchers but I know there are many more academics who are contributed more broadly especially in professional service areas.”

What are Impact Case Studies?

“This is the second REF where impact has featured,” explains Diana. “We’re committing 56 Impact Case Studies – an increase of a dozen or so on 2014. We whittled that down from a much greater number.

“What we’re looking at is where there has been demonstrable change as a result of putting our research outcomes into the public domain. It could be a quality change, it could be a change in practice that we’ve influenced. For example, the impact the cardiovascular science research group have had on heart health in athletes. Or our work on flooding in the Philippines showing how small investments can made a big difference to people’s lives.”

“We have very blue-sky-thinking research but also research which is focussed on knowledge exchange as the first line of thought. We do work in communities, we work in test-tubes with single cells; it’s that rich and diverse.  I think the overall character, is tied into our Strategic Plan; we want to do things and generate knowledge that is going to have an impact or be useful, whether an elite athlete, a patient, a government department or a private enterprise.”

Diverse and inclusive

Looking at our submission overall, Keith describes it as “hugely diverse and inclusive”.

“The other thing that we never lose sight of is that our research needs to be useful for the students that we teach. Whether undergraduate or postgraduate. We want to infuse our curriculum with the knowledge that we generate; and that’s what makes a university a university.”

According to Keith, the REF juggernaut is getting more and more complex: “Diana leads a fantastic team, 60 staff, who cover HR, finance, ethics, governance, library services all the way though our professional services, we have a lot of people who support our activity.

“The University Research Committee and the Executive Leadership Team are the people who press the button but the vast majority of activity comes from below that. We have 16 Units of Assessment, so 16 leads, and 50+ Impact Case Studies, so 50+ authors working with often big teams collecting data on outputs, engagement with partners. Then within each each UoA there are writing teams and reading teams. So there are hundreds of heroes and heroines.”


Keith admits he’s a little stunned about achieving the submission on time during the pandemic. “We’ll make it because of the hard work and graft of everyone. I’m just overwhelmed and impressed that we’ve managed to have a full submissions in the set of circumstances. It’s remarkable both at a University and an individual level.”


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