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What is a high-quality research environment? Evidence from the UK’s Research Excellence Framework

journal contribution
posted on 2024-01-29, 15:14 authored by Matthew InglisMatthew Inglis, Elizabeth GaddElizabeth Gadd, Elizabeth Stokoe

As part of the UK university sector’s performance-related research funding model, the ‘REF’ (Research Excellence Framework), each discipline-derived ‘Unit of Assessment’ must submit a statement to provide information about their environment, culture, and strategy for enabling research and impact. Our aim in this paper is to identify the topics on which these statements focus, and how topic variation predicts funding-relevant research environment quality profiles. Using latent Dirichlet allocation topic modelling, we analysed all 1888 disciplinary ‘unit-level’ environment statements from REF2021. Our model identified eight topics which collectively predicted a surprisingly large proportion – 58.9% – of the variance in units’ environment scores, indicating that the way in which statements were written contributed substantially to the perceived quality of a unit’s research environment. Assessing research environments will increase in importance in the next REF exercise and the insights found through our analysis may support reflection and discussion about what it means to have a high-quality research environment.


Centre for Early Mathematics Learning

Economic and Social Research Council

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Published in

Research Evaluation


Oxford University Press (OUP)


  • AM (Accepted Manuscript)

Publisher statement

This is a pre-copyedited, author-produced version of an article accepted for publication in Research Evaluation following peer review. The version of record [insert complete citation information here] is available online at: xxxxxxx [insert URL and DOI of the article on the OUP website].

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Prof Matthew Inglis. Deposit date: 29 January 2024