REF 2021 - Business School results

REF 2021 results confirm the University of Sussex Business School as one of the UK’s foremost producers of world-leading and internationally excellent research tackling the great societal challenges of our time.

The results of the latest national Research Excellence Framework (REF 2021), announced on 12 May 2022, highlight the School’s defining strengths as a research-intensive, interdisciplinary business school with a distinctive portfolio – one dominated by research into subjects of global importance, such as sustainable development, clean energy, responsible business, and international trade. 

Prof Steven McGuire, Dean of the Business School, said: “Researchers from the Business School are challenging conventional thinking and providing innovative solutions to shape policies and practices worldwide. We’re delighted that REF 2021 has recognised the high quality and real-world impact of our work.” 

REF results in brief

REF is an internationally recognised assessment of research quality, providing a key measure to determine research funding to universities. As well as assessing the quality of research carried out by universities, it judges the wider cultural, societal, and economic impact of those institutions’ research. The REF 2021 results for the Business School are as follows:

Business and Management Studies:

-          More than 85% of our research overall was rated as either ‘world-leading’ (39% 4*) or ‘internationally excellent' (47% 3*).

-          Similarly, over 85% of the impact of our research on businesses, society and policymakers across the globe was recognised as either ‘outstanding’ (50% 4*) or ‘very considerable’ (37.5% 3*).

-          Over a third of our research outputs were assessed as ‘world-leading’ (34.3% 4*), with a further 48% as ‘internationally excellent’ (3*).

Economics and Econometrics:

-          97% of our research overall was rated as either world-leading (4*) or internationally excellent (3*).

-          100% of our research’s impact on businesses, society and policymakers across the globe was recognised as either 100% ‘outstanding’ (4*) or ‘very considerable’ (3*).

-          94.7% of our research outputs were assessed as either ‘world-leading’ (28.1% 4*) or ‘internationally excellent’ (66.6% 3*).

Research for a better world

As the Business School research strategy states, our aim is to produce “high-impact research that cultivates unique solutions to real-world problems for economic, environmental, and societal short, creating a better world”.

The School is at the forefront of research into some of the key challenges facing modern government, industry, and society. In recent years, around two-thirds of our research has focused on issues of sustainability (including energy policy and climate change mitigation) and social responsibility, in line with the UN’s Principles of Responsible Management Education (PRME).
Prof McGuire explains the reasons for the School’s dedication to the social good. “We believe businesses cannot truly thrive unless the communities in which they exist also prosper. And many of the challenges facing any business or industry cannot be fully understood without due appreciation of broader political, regulatory, economic, and environmental contexts. Equally, we believe we have a duty to ensure our research benefits not only individuals or firms, but also society at large.”

Making an impact

A sincere commitment to ethics, responsibility and sustainability lies at the heart of much of the School’s most impactful research. As part of the REF assessment exercise, the School submitted 11 impact case studies, which demonstrated how our research projects have created a positive change in the world – ranging from transforming waste management in India to using science and technology to reduce poverty and achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

You can read more about our high-scoring impact case studies on the School’s Research webpages.

Developments since REF 2014

The results of the latest assessment exercise reflect significant developments in the School’s research over the last eight years. As Prof McGuire explains, “Since REF 2014 we have been working hard to build on our strengths and increase the quality, reach and significance of our work across the research base. This includes not just our work in highly applied, policy-focused areas but also more traditional business school subjects. The REF 2021 results confirm that we remain strong in all major disciplines within business, management, and economics.”

According to the latest Times Higher Education (THE) rankings of REF 2021 results, the overall quality of the School’s submission in the field of Economics & Econometrics (Unit of Assessment 16) ranks 13th in the UK, out of 25 submitting institutions, while its submission to Business & Management Studies (Unit of Assessment 17) was tied 28th out of 108 institutions. Both results mark a substantial improvement on the School’s REF 2014 positions. Furthermore, the School achieved significantly higher-grade point average (GPA) scores across all elements of its REF submissions since 2014. Its GPA scores for outputs, impact and the research environment are significantly higher for both Units of Assessment compared to the 2014 exercise. The overall GPA for our research in Business & Management Studies, for example, rose from 2.87 in 2014 to 3.23 in 2021; while the same metric for Economics & Econometrics increased from 2.84 to 3.34.

These results place us in the top quartile of submissions to UoA17 for the proportion of our 4* quality overall, as well as for our outputs GPA (positioned 27 /108 in the THE tables); while the GPA score for impact in UoA 16 is the 6th highest in the UK. The THE Rankings also place us 22nd out of 108 institutions for Research Power in UoA17.

Beyond REF: our plans

Publication of the REF 2021 results comes at an exciting time for the School. In recent years, the School has become double-accredited, receiving the coveted EQUIS and AMBA international accreditations. And its ambitions continue to grow. As the School’s Research Manager, Dr Richard Taylor, says: “We are about to launch a new and improved research strategy, and are looking to further grow our burgeoning research grant portfolio, which currently stands as one of the largest, by grant income, of any business school in the country. We will build on the great improvements made since REF 2014 to become an international centre of excellence for research into some of the world’s most urgent and intractable problems.”

Prof McGuire concludes: “The REF 2021 results confirm that we are one of the most pioneering research-focused business schools in the country. Our aim is to continue to pursue interdisciplinary, high-impact research, and to keep creating meaningful impact across a broad range of societal and business challenges.”

Beyond the School, the University also performed well across its set of submissions. Eighty-nine percent of research activity submitted was categorised as either ‘world-leading’ (40.6%) or ‘internationally excellent’ (48.4%). Additionally, the proportion of Sussex research impact assessed as 'outstanding' has increased from 35.3% to 50.0% (by 14.7%) since the REF 2014 exercise. Read the University press release on the institutional results.