Assessing the impact of chemistry research submitted to REF2021




Royal Society of Chemistry

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An analysis of the published documents from the REF2021 chemistry unit of assessment (UOA8), highlighting insights from the impact and environment submissions that evidence contributions of UK chemistry to science, society and the economy.

Royal Society of Chemistry | Research Consulting

The publishing of the documents submitted to REF2021 provides a rich data set which can be mined to provide insights into the research that is conducted across UK universities and how this is benefiting the world socially and economically. The Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) recognised the significance of the REF2021 data and commissioned Research Consulting to analyse the impact and environment submissions from UOA8 (Chemistry) to provide an aggregated view of the value of chemistry research within the UK and beyond.

Our expertise in this area, including staff who worked at the forefront of REF2021, both in the submission and assessment phases, meant that in carrying out the review we were aware of the very specific criteria and limitations that govern the REF process and are important in understanding the representativeness of the source data and caveats relating to the findings. The methodological approach was anchored in thematic coding on the publicly available evidence from 113 impact case studies and 40 environment statements, aggregating the findings into the publicly available report.

Key findings from the work include:

  • The report shows substantial investment across institutions in new chemistry departments, buildings and equipment over the REF2021 period (2013-2020).
  • Over 80% of the REF2021 case studies illustrated economic impact and over 800 different organisations were mentioned across the case studies, suggesting strong collaboration across the sector.
  • Return on investment from chemistry research is significant with new companies spun out, new jobs created, and investment across R&D leading to new products, processes and technologies.
  • The analysis shows that chemistry underpins impact related to healthcare, environment and sustainability challenges, with interdisciplinary collaborations evident in this space.
  • The analysis also shows chemistry departments are working to attract a more diverse section of society to the chemical sciences, addressing issues previously highlighted by the RSC.
  • Chemistry departments have taken advantage of EU place-based funding to invest in new buildings, upgrade equipment and facilities and to enable innovation projects with SMEs.

Importantly, the report recognises that whilst the REF2021 impact and environment statements provide useful information on the discipline, it is only a partial view and comprises a sub-set of the chemistry research undertaken by UK HEIs and impact delivered from this.

The project required working to set deadlines and considerable stakeholder management, both of which were managed effectively by Research Consulting. The lead consultant brought extensive expertise of the REF and of chemistry to the project, which was instrumental in achieving our project objectives. We are very satisfied with the outputs of the work as well as the process and collaboration that got us there. Dr Karen Stroobants, Lead Policy Advisor (Research Landscape & Economy).

The examples in this report are to be celebrated. They will strengthen the RSC’s ability to make a compelling case for the value and contribution of the chemical sciences to making the world a better place.Dr Jo Reynolds, Director of Science & Communities, Royal Society of Chemistry