Research Excellence

Thursday 12 May 2022

Research at Scotland’s oldest university is amongst the highest quality in the country.

More than 88% of research carried out by the University of St Andrews is world-leading or internationally excellent, according to the results of the Research Excellence Framework (REF 2021) published today (Thursday 12 May).

The REF – a detailed analysis of the research strengths of all UK universities – found that St Andrews particularly excelled in a number of key research areas, including Physics, Earth Sciences, Art History, Anthropology, Modern Languages, and Chemistry, a joint submission to REF with the University of Edinburgh.

St Andrews’ partnership with the University of Edinburgh for Chemistry was ranked first in the UK based on the quality and breadth of its combined research.

Also performing strongly in St Andrews were Medicine, Psychology and Neuroscience, History, and Maths and Statistics.

REF found that the overall quality of research at St Andrews had increased by 5.7 % since the last assessment exercise in 2014.

St Andrews Principal and Vice-Chancellor Professor Sally Mapstone FRSE said: “The overall quality of our research has increased significantly since the last REF in 2014, we have cause to celebrate the achievements of several of our Schools whose research is rated amongst the best in the UK, and the fact that over 88% of the research we produce in this small corner of Fife has been held to be world-leading or internationally excellent is a remarkable achievement.”

The research portfolio which St Andrews submitted for assessment explored areas as diverse as the presence of toxins in vaping products, new methods to tackle tuberculosis in developing countries, and improving understanding of positive change in post-genocide Rwanda.

Although REF itself explicitly does not rank universities according to research strengths, the metrics it produces are widely used in the higher education sector and in the media to benchmark research performance.

According to these figures, using the method of Grade Point Average (GPA), St Andrews was top in Scotland for Physics, Earth Sciences, Modern Languages, Art History, Anthropology and Chemistry (joint submission with the University of Edinburgh).

Overall under GPA, St Andrews was ranked third in Scotland and 28th in the UK, one of six Scottish universities ranked amongst the top 50 research institutions in the UK.

Research at St Andrews which REF judged to be world-leading included:

  • Medicine The global fight against tuberculosis: Developing global capacity to improve tuberculosis treatment by developing shorter, safer drug regimens, and improved diagnostics for monitoring treatment.
  • Chemistry On track to greener trains: St Andrews is developing Scotland’s first hydrogen train which entails the conversion and re-use of a 40-year-old three car class 314 train to a hydrogen fuel cell electric powertrain. The project will reuse existing rolling stock to create new supply opportunities and skills creation for the emerging green economy, while reducing emissions from the Scottish rail sector.
  • Psychology and Neuroscience: Rethinking dementia with Adaptive Interaction. Research concentrates on helping people living with advanced dementia to communicate. ‘Adaptive Interaction’ focuses on developing meaningful ways to communicate with those who have lost speech.
  • Earth and Environmental Sciences The journey to a smoke-free future, research on alternatives to combustible tobacco to decrease the exposure to harmful chemicals still further while providing users with a nicotine source: Scientists focused on the quantities of carcinogenic chemicals present in the aerosols that smokers and vapers inhale to make vaping a safer alternative.
  • Maths and Statistics Developing statistical methods to reduce environmental impacts on the world’s oceans: Research has been used in a range of industries, from naval forces to wind turbine deployment to the response of marine animals to sonar, providing critical datasets that have been used to improve sonar use around the world.
  • Modern Languages Building Creative Engagement with Industrial Heritage in the UK and Ukraine: The war in Donbas, Ukraine, has resulted in the deaths of more than 13,000 people and displaced a further 1.6 million since it began in 2014. This research demonstrated that the challenges of de-industrialisation are key to understanding the causes of this conflict. The research has engaged professionals, creatives and broader audiences in Ukraine and the UK, enlarging collections, shifting public perceptions of history and developing entirely new practices within heritage industries. This research highlights the social and cultural consequences of the closure of many mines and steelworks in the 1990s, after which communities were faced with unemployment, declining populations, and infrastructure collapse.
  • Art History Redefining Community Museums in Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean: Community museums often serve a vital purpose in local development and community empowerment, but this importance is rarely reflected in resource allocation. Since September 2016, EU-LAC Museums have delivered numerous workshops focused on the importance of intangible, ‘living’ heritage, reaching dozens of museum sites and involving thousands of people around the world. A Youth Exchange Programme demonstrated how community museums can help foster cultural participation between generations through a focused case study between Scotland and Costa Rica. It has brought together eight partners from across Scotland, Portugal, Spain, Peru, Chile, Costa Rica and Barbados, alongside the International Council of Museums to challenge conventional wisdom about what a museum should be, resulting in a revised definition that accounts for the needs of communities across the world in the 21st century in a way that emphasises their uniquely social impact.
  • Social Anthropology and Divinity Recovering Peru’s religious and cultural heritage: The importance of the Andean cultural heritage has been denigrated and understudied within Peru and globally. Local ethnic groups in Peru lack access to their own history, while the traditional Andean form of communication, ‘khipus’, has been disparaged as not being ‘true writing’. Research carried out has helped to recover the cultural heritage of native Andeans by publishing the first historical ethnography of Peruvian Chanka Indians, incorporated into displays at the Chanka museum, and by advancing our understanding of the Andean system of writing with knotted cords, ‘khipus’.

Read the full details of the University of St Andrews REF 2021 results.

Find our more about the Research Excellence Framework 2021.

Issued by the University of St Andrews Communications Office.

Category Awards

Related topics

Share this story