Informatics REF2021 results: global reach, genuine impact

[12/05/2022] The School of Informatics remains among the top Computer Science and Informatics research institutions in the UK, according to 2021 Research Excellence Framework results. Our research was recognised as world-leading for research impact and environment. Times Higher Education (THE) named us the top Computer Science and Informatics department in terms of quality and breadth of our research, known as research power.

From processors to vaccines development 

Text saying: 1st in the UK, global reach, genuine impact superimposed over the photograph of a modern 4-floor building

As evidenced by our impact case studies, the School of Informatics research has a global reach: it underpins some of the technology in billions of processors and smartphones produced every year, and thanks to our scientists millions of gamers enjoy state-of-the-art animation features. Giants such as GitHub, Uber, Facebook, Microsoft and Lingo24, adopt or use ideas first developed in the School of Informatics and EPCC, the Supercomputing and Data Science Centre at the University of Edinburgh.  

Applications of our research extend to COVID-19 vaccine development, the prediction of earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic activity, delivery of public and economic services in a number of countries across the world and – interestingly - improving the provision of subtitles on BBC and Channel 4. 

World-leading impact and environment 

With our research spanning across disciplines and countries to make a real-world impact, perhaps it should not be surprising that all impact case studies submitted to REF 2021 jointly by the School of Informatics and EPCC have been classed as world-leading as was our research environment. This shows how committed to research with real world impact the School has been: in a similar exercise in 2014, only 48% of our impact case studies and 60% of our research environment received the top grade. 

Our overall results have also improved: 33% of our research outputs were deemed world-leading in 2014, in 2021 61% of our research outputs are world-leading (4*) and 33.4% are internationally excellent (3*). 

We have submitted 360 outputs and 9 impact case studies in 2021 from 144.04 FTE staff (94.85 FTE in 2014). 

Topping THE and Research Professional rankings for power 

Times Higher Education use REF results to compile league tables of research institutions. The School of Informatics and EPCC top 2021 rankings for power, market share and FTE entered. We scored 1000 for research power (UCL which is next in this category scored 699), and 7.59 for market share (UCL came second again with a score of 5.34). 

Power is calculated by multiplying the grade point average by the total number of full-time equivalent staff submitted, and then scaling that figure such that the highest score in the ranking is 1000. Market share is a measure of how much of the 4* (world-leading) and 3* (internationally excellent) research carried out across all the submissions to a specific Unit of Assessment (UoA) took place at a specific university.  

These scores put us in front of other Scottish UoAs in Computer Science and Informatics in each of these categories (power, FTE and market share), as well as in THE overall rankings, which combine various scores (including GPA). In the UK we are ranked 6th overall (15th in 2014 THE rankings) out of 90 in the UK, in a very close top 10, topped by Imperial College London and the University of Oxford. 

The School of Informatics and EPCC are also ranked number 1 in a similar ranking by the Research Professional. Our submission scored 100 in their power rating which is calculated by multiplying the full-time equivalent of submitted staff by the percentage of the submission rated 4* or 3*; adjusted to a percentage of the largest value, with the top value set to 100 and all others a percentage of this. UCL, ranked 2, scored 70.42 for power, and Oxford (third) - 54.02.

Recipe for success 

A large gathering of people standing on the ground floor of a modern building, looking up

Multiple factors contributed to such an excellent result. 

The breadth of our research is undeniable: we encompass fields from foundations of computation and computer systems to data science, artificial intelligence, language, interaction, and robotics. In all these fields we use our expertise to tackle major contemporary questions: how to advance computing through innovation in languages, hardware, models, tools, and algorithms; apply data science and AI in biomedicine, health and wellbeing, software and algorithm engineering, and financial services.  

We aim to build computational and mathematical models of language and cognition and link them to the real world, use data to design tangible products and intangible services to transform the ways we work, live at home, care for each other, and play.  

We want to build robotic devices and autonomous systems that achieve human-like performance at complex tasks in real-world physical environments 

Open and collaborative community 

Our community of researchers is diverse, open and inclusive, and collaboration is at the heart of what we do: our research networks span across the university to most schools in every college. We invest in cross-disciplinary research: EPCC is our submission partner, we work with colleagues in the Usher Institute, and we have long-established and strong links to Bayes and Edinburgh Futures Institute. We work with scores of industrial partners – for this submission our partners included IOHK, ARM Ltd, Qualcomm, Intel, Fujitsu, Emotech and Quorate. 

Last but not least, we have access to unparalleled facilities (such as EPCC’s supercomputers or the National Robotarium) which provide a fertile environment for our researchers. 

I am absolutely delighted with the REF results, confirming that we have an excellent environment in which to conduct world leading research with genuine impact.  I think that we can be rightly proud of all Informatics research that is done in the University and its influence in the world. 

Professor Jane Hillston
Head of School of Informatics 

I am very proud that EPCC has been part of Informatics achieving these impressive results, which recognise the excellence of the School's research output and demonstrate the real-world impact of our close partnership. 

Professor Mark Parsons
EPCC Director 

What is REF? 

The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is the UK’s system for assessing the quality of research in UK higher education institutions, carried out every 6-7 years to assess the quality of research across UK universities, show the quality and output of research on a domestic and global stage, and show the impact research has on the academic environment and our society, and highlight its real-world benefits. 

Related links 

EPCC website 

School of Informatics research excellence 

School of Informatics research themes 

Examples of the impact of our research 

REF 2021 results for Computer Science and Informatics 

THE rankings for Computer Science and Informatics 

THE methodology 

Research Professional ranking for Computer Science and Informatics

Research Professional methodology

University of Edinburgh results

REF 2014 results