How Scottish universities challenge world’s best

SCOTLAND’S universities have been ranked as “global leaders” in research in a range of subjects, a new study reveals.

Students such as these Edinburgh graduates helped boost the universitys profile. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Students such as these Edinburgh graduates helped boost the universitys profile. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Rankings show Edinburgh is fourth in the UK in terms of research behind Oxford, University College London and Cambridge.

Glasgow, St Andrews and Strathclyde are also in the top 30 list produced by Research Fortnight, based on the results of the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF), a large-scale exercise which reviews the quality of research in subjects at universities across the UK. Aberdeen University was ranked 31st.

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Subjects such as chemistry, biology, physics, history and art and design are particularly strong in Scottish research, the study found.

Overall, 77 per cent of Scottish research was judged to be “world-leading” or “internationally excellent”, putting Scotland just ahead of the UK average of 76.1 per cent. This is also up from 52 per cent when the in-depth assessment was last carried out in 2008.

Work is graded from the best (world-leading) four stars down to one star (recognised nationally). Only universities which are given a three (internationally excellent) or four-star ranking are eligible for government research funding for 2015-16.

Professor Pete Downes, convener of Universities Scotland and principal of the Dundee University, said he “couldn’t be any prouder” with the Scottish results. He said: “Scotland’s higher education institutions have performed outstandingly well.


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“Every one of Scotland’s higher education institutions undertakes research of world-leading quality, with more than three-quarters of all of the research submitted by Scottish institutions judged to be world-leading and internationally excellent.”

Edinburgh University’s research in sociology, environmental sciences, and computer science and informatics was rated the best in the UK, based on the breadth and quality of research.

Joint research submissions with Heriot-Watt University in maths were rated fifth in the rankings, while Edinburgh and the St Andrews University came second for a joint submission in chemistry, and fifth for a submission in physics.

Edinburgh principal Professor Sir Timothy O’Shea said: “Our outstanding researchers enable us to forge links with charities, businesses, policy-makers and other universities, so that together we can tackle long-standing challenges at home and overseas.”

Glasgow University was rated second in Scotland for research and 12th overall in the UK.

Principal and vice-chancellor Professor Anton Muscatelli said: “It is particularly pleasing that, in line with the aspirations set out in the university’s 2020 Global Vision, 31 per cent of our output was of ‘world-leading’ quality.”

In the report, Heriot-Watt is listed in 43rd spot, Stirling at 48th and the University of the Highlands and Islands at 104.

Meanwhile, the University of Dundee is ranked 37th overall but came top in the UK for biological sciences, with 76 per cent of its research achieving the top ranking.

The Royal Conservatoire in Glasgow is listed at 131 but has a “world-leading” percentage of 67 for music and drama research, up from 40 in 2008.


1 Oxford

2 University College London

3 Cambridge

4 Edinburgh

5 Manchester

6 Imperial

7 King’s College London

8 Nottingham

9 Bristol

10 Leeds

11 Southampton

12 Sheffield

13 Glasgow

14 Warwick

15 Birmingham

16 Newcastle

17 Cardiff

18 Durham

19 Queen’s Belfast

20 Queen Mary, London


29 St Andrews

30 Strathclyde

31 Aberdeen

37 Dundee

43 Heriot-Watt

48 Stirling

83 Glasgow Caledonian

97 Edinburgh Napier

100 Uni of the West of Scotland

105 Robert Gordon

110 Glasgow School of Art

118 Queen Margaret, Edinburgh

123 Abertay Dundee

131 Royal Conservatoire of Scotland


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