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Celebrating Research Excellence at Queen’s University

As we approach the Research Excellence Framework (REF) results announcement on the 12th of May, I have been reflecting on the research that is happening at Queen’s as well as the support environment surrounding our research.

I am impressed by the breadth and the creativity of the research that occurs within our university and I'm proud of our position as a global research-intense university. Furthermore, I am encouraged by the steps that our university is taking to enhance our research culture, and to create a healthy research environment, through policies, processes and practices which allow the diverse minds of all our researchers and their support networks to flourish. One of the ways we can see the development of a strong research environment is through the validation of our peers in the REF excersise.

Celebrating all Research Contributions 

We are extremely proud of our contribution to REF 2021 and we will celebrate the recognition from our peers of our strengths and successes in the exercise, as well as celebrating the successes of others too. We are also aware that REF is only one part of the broader research ecosystem, only one means of assessing the importance and excellence of research contributions across the UK Higher Education Sector. We believe that REF is a crucial part of this story; but, importantly, there are many things we do in research here at Queen’s which do not form part of our REF submission, yet are essential to our success and the success of our partners and the communities we serve. 

That is why throughout the month of May we are going to showcase and celebrate the totality of our research here at Queen’s - our vibrant post-Doctoral community, our inclusive research culture, our commitment to innovation in research both locally and globally, and of course, the demonstrable excellence of our research as shown by REF. We will highlight the difference Queen’s is making to lives and livelihoods in Northern Ireland and around the world.  And we will signpost the next steps in our research journey, our areas of strength, our priorities for the next ten years, and our research at the cutting edge of innovation and creativity. 

Over the next two weeks we will recognise and celebrate our research successes and strengths, our innovative structures, and our supports. I encourage you all to take some time to engage with this content, and to see that we all are making a difference as members of the Queen’s community, to the institution, to our local community, and to our global research partners. Engage with and amplify our successes through social media using the hashtag #lovequb and encourage colleagues and external partners to do so as well. We have much to be proud of through our research here at Queen’s. The REF results will highlight a very important aspect of that, but our success in REF could not happen, and would have little meaning, without the initiatives and innovations which underpin the ways in which we approach research as an institution. 

REF as Part of the Wider Research Ecosystem 

Within the research community there are varying opinions about the suitability of the REF assessment as a yardstick for research excellence. That said, I want to state that I value and appreciate the REF - I believe we should be held accountable for our use of public money.  I don’t think it is perfect, but I do think it has pushed critical agendas around impact and open science, and has improved the quality of research undertaken in the UK.  

At its core, REF is a research assessment process which focuses on research outputs, research impact and research environment. Having worked across the UK I know that there is research excellence in many forms across institutions, and it doesn't just sit within a small cohort of universities. REF allows us to celebrate this spread of excellence. 

Yet one of the problems with REF is that institutions regard it as an opportunity to compete and draw comparisons with one another, which is not its intended purpose. This competitiveness can cause institutions to lose sight of the fact that ‘the enemy’ is outside of academia - it is challenges within healthcare, social inequalities, and environmental sustainability.   

Tackling the Major Research Challenges 

Thus, when I think about the benefits of REF, I think about the grants that cut across institutions, sectors and borders which allows Queen’s to collaborate beyond the walls of our university to tackle these challenges. For example: 

~ How we are working with international industry partners to develop ground-breaking phototronic technology for the future advancement of medical devices, communication, and data storage, or 

~ How an education model developed at Queen’s has been used and adopted by national and international organisations, agencies, and governments to inform their understanding of children’s right to heard, improving the wellbeing of countless numbers of children across the globe, or 

~ How we are working with one of the world’s largest fuel companies to make fuel production cleaner and safer for decades to come. 

More examples of how we are collaborating to tackle societal challenges locally, nationally, and internally can be found here. 

This isn’t to suggest that all research needs to be socially impactful, and challenge-led; there is of course the need for theory-based research which pushes the boundaries of our understanding. 

There is also the work that may sit outside a traditional REF submission - public engagement, Knowledge Transfer Partnershipsinnovation programmes, spinout creation and more.  

Celebrate Research Excellence  

As we enter the period of REF results, let us celebrate all the excellence wherever it may be. Let us celebrate the new innovations, the risky ideas, and the fledgling collaborations across institutions and across sectors that don’t always end up in high-end journals but do make a significant positive difference to people’s lives, or lead us through failure to ultimate success. We need all of these to truly address the challenges faced by societies of today and tomorrow. 


Addressing Global Challenges

Excellence in research and innovation, and making a positive global impact, are central to what we do at Queen’s University Belfast. Find out more.

Photo: Professor Emma Flynn Professor Emma Flynn
Professor Emma Flynn joined Queen's in May 2019 as Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Enterprise. A developmental and comparative psychologist, Professor Flynn is a leader in her research field, with multiple international and inter-disciplinary collaborations.
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