How good is research in English Studies in our universities today?

Posted by hl11 at Feb 12, 2015 10:15 AM |
The English Association's Higher Education Committee comments on the results for REF 2014

How good is research in English Studies in our universities today? ‘Outstanding’ is the headline answer if we read the final report of the sub-panel for English Language and Literature (UoA29) for the Research Excellence Framework 2014. Moreover, it is outstanding across the board, regardless of the type of university or its location.

To give this claim some context, 33% of the research activity in English Studies was deemed world-leading (4*). That is 2% above the next biggest discipline in the humanities: History. And it is 3% above the average for all subject submissions. Overall, 74% of our research activity was deemed world-leading (4*) or internationally excellent (3*). 89 HEIs made submissions to UoA29, more than to any other sub-panel in the field of arts and humanities, and every one of them was able to demonstrate some element of 4* quality.

Another revelation is the growth of English Studies. While most Units of Assessment submitted fewer outputs than in RAE2008, English submitted more: 508 more. In fact, significantly more outputs were submitted to the English sub-panel, from a higher number of researchers, than to any other arts and humanities discipline.

Since the achievement in English Studies in REF2014 is not just about the numbers we should also be heartened by the three emphases of the sub-panel’s narrative: Quality, Diversity and Impact.


Authored books, scholarly editions and collections of essays remain central to ‘the dissemination of high quality research in English’, but the sub-panel also noted that the highest scores were spread across every type of output and across different media. Similarly, work representing creative writing – a flourishing part of English Studies – often ‘extended the boundaries’ of the discipline ‘in absorbing and sometimes exhilarating ways’.


The diversity and range of work on literature in its English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh and global contexts impressed the panel and is a theme running throughout their report. The panel saw outstanding work from ‘all periods of literary history’, in many different forms – from essays to databases - and from institutions of ‘different size and character’. They also highlighted and praised the variety of approaches and methods applied in English Language and Linguistics.


REF2014 assessed the ‘impact’ of university research for the first time. The conclusions the sub-panel reached are positive and encouraging. The impact of research in English Studies was found to be ‘far-reaching’, producing ‘public benefit in various areas of civic and economic life’, and the evidence for this was ‘found across the discipline community’.

Looking forward, the future research of English Studies looks bright. Not only was the level of support for early career researchers in English Studies commended by the panel but so too was the quality of postgraduate work, described as ‘among the notable strengths of the discipline’.

Professor Jennifer Richards

Chair of English Association HE Committee

12th February 2015

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