People Are Central to High-Performing Research Units at UK Universities

For Release

November 17, 2015

Insights into the characteristics of high-performing research units in UK higher education institutions are revealed today in a new report published by RAND Europe and the Policy Institute at King's College London.

Commissioned by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, the report examines characteristics shared between research units whose submissions to the Research Excellence Framework 2014 scored highly in the areas of research and impact. Using a combination of data analysis, a review of the existing literature, interviews and a workshop with individuals from high-performing research units, the team identified five key themes associated with high performance:

  • people
  • culture, values and leadership
  • strategy and funding
  • collaboration and networks; and
  • institutional and departmental practice.

“Whether having a shared value system or strategies in place that emphasise the importance of maintaining financial stability and seeking diverse funding streams, high-performing research units share characteristics that, if implemented elsewhere, could help deliver excellent research,” said Catriona Manville, co-author of the report and a senior research analyst at RAND Europe, a not-for-profit research organisation.

The report also highlights that many of the individuals interviewed considered the importance of people, particularly recruiting and the retaining the best staff, as a key pre-requisite characteristic of success and central to high performance.

Professor Jonathan Grant, director of the Policy Institute at King's College London, said, “The UK's ability to attract world leading researchers from across the globe is a significant contributor to excellent research performance. In high-performing research units more staff have PhDs, externally funded salaries and crucially, international experience.”

Focusing on strategic approaches to deliver excellent research and providing a number of observations that warrant further exploration, the analysis will be of interest to those involved in managing and funding research, facilitating high performance in research and the higher education sector more broadly.

Other authors of the report are Saba Hinrichs, Sarah Parks, Adam Kamenetzky, Salil Gunashekar and Benedict Wilkinson.

RAND Europe is an independent, not-for-profit research institute whose mission is to help improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis.

The Policy Institute at King's College London acts as a hub to link insightful research with rapid, relevant policy analysis in order to stimulate debate, and shape and inform policy agendas.

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