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Installation views, bauhaus imaginista, House of World Cultures, 2019

Key details


  • 12 May 2022


  • RCA

Read time

  • 3 minutes

REF 2021 results released today demonstrate that the Royal College of Art has doubled its research power – the volume of research multiplied by quality – with a higher proportion of the College’s overall outputs graded world leading (4*) than in REF 2014.

The assessment from the Research Excellence Framework shows that the RCA has maintained its reputation for high-quality research, increasing the proportion of outputs graded world-leading and internationally excellent after submitting 100 per cent of eligible staff for consideration – more than double the full time equivalent of staff compared to REF 2014.

Research from the RCA continues to generate demonstrable benefits and impact for businesses and communities internationally. After increasing the number of impact case studies submitted compared to REF 2014, the vast majority of these were graded as internationally excellent (3*) and world-leading (4*), confirming the College’s outstanding Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF) results.

The RCA has also maintained a research environment rating of 3* and 4* – reflecting the strength of the College’s supportive and stimulating research culture. This means that 100 per cent of academic staff at the RCA are considered research-active to a high level, with the College’s community of postgraduate students benefiting from inspirational and insightful teaching provided by its world-leading research environment and staff.

This research excellence is also manifest in the College’s increasing provision of doctoral study: during this REF period, the number of doctoral degrees awarded by the RCA increased by 300 per cent compared to REF 2014. The College’s research income also increased by 236 per cent – with four interdisciplinary research centres attracting over £10 million of UKRI funding in recent years.

Commenting on the positive results, Dr Paul Thompson, Vice-Chancellor of the Royal College of Art, said:

“The results of REF 2021 further enhance the RCA’s reputation as a research-intensive specialist postgraduate institution. It’s especially noteworthy that the proportion of our research outputs classed as world-leading and internationally excellent have increased, with 100% of our academic staff included in our REF submission for the first time.

The creation of three new interdisciplinary research centres, in Intelligent Mobility, Material Science and Computer Science, as well as a Robotics Lab, to accompany the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design, has also been significant. In total our research centres have attracted well over £10 million of UKRI funding in recent years, which is an incredible achievement that allows us to further our ambitious research goals in our Strategic Plan.

Every student interaction at the RCA is underpinned by this high-quality research and our interdisciplinary outlook, fostering an environment where our postgraduate community can flourish. 

Our success in REF 2021 comes as a result of the hard work, dedication and effort of our staff from all of the College’s Schools and Research Centres, as well as our support staff. My congratulations to all involved."

Dr Emma Wakelin, Director of Research, Knowledge Exchange & Innovation, said:

“I’m delighted that the REF 2021 results have confirmed the high quality of the research-intensive culture at the RCA. I’d like to offer my sincere thanks to all RCA colleagues who put so much time, effort and dedication into their work to help achieve this outcome for the College, including our academic staff in the Schools and Research Centres, and all those who have supported them, including our professional teams working in the RKE Office, Library and other departments.”

As the RCA celebrates its 185th anniversary, the REF 2021 results build on the College’s world-leading reputation which has seen it ranked the number one university for art and design internationally for the eighth consecutive year, according to the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2022.

The case studies submitted to REF 2021 represent a cross-section of the interdisciplinary research that underpins the RCA’s collaborative approach to art and design education – championing a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Design and Maths) academic vision which celebrates the burgeoning relationships between science and art and design disciplines. A selection of these impact case studies are detailed below.

Installation views, Paul Klee Centre, Bern, 2019

A major international project commissioned by the Bauhaus archive, the House of World Cultures (HKW) and Goethe Institute to mark the Bauhaus school’s centenary. It featured exhibitions and events in 11 countries culminating in a major exhibition in Berlin, a catalogue and online journal. Led by Grant Watson.

RFID-reading bird feeder, or Freader (left), Naturewatch Camera Trap (right), Design Products team 2018

A collaborative design research project between the Interaction Research Studio at Goldsmiths University and the Design Products Programme at the Royal College of Art, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. The aim of the project was to design DIY devices that support new ways to engage with nature and technology. Led by Dr Rob Phillips.

DC: Semiramis, Netwerk Aalst, part of exhibition Alias, 2019 (photographer: Tom Callemin)

Bringing feminist art to new audiences for the benefit of galleries, artists and publics. Led by Tai Shani.

Rain curtain to support ‘knowledge workers’ in the 21-st century workplace, Catherine Green

A major study exploring the design of office space for an ageing workforce in the twenty-first century knowledge economy. Led by Professor Emeritus Jeremy Myerson.

Find out about our REF 2021 submission process

Discover more about our world-leading research

Research at the RCA
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