School of Social and Political Science

School of Social and Political Science success in REF2021 



REF results


The School of Social and Political Science is pleased to announce the results of the Research Excellence Framework 2021 (REF2021). REF is one of the ways in which the quality of academic research across all of the UK’s higher education institutions is assessed. The results recognise the ground-breaking and important research carried out in the School, reflecting our position as one of the most vibrant and exciting places to carry out social science research in the UK. Research Professional has ranked our UoAs as follows for the quality and breadth of research:  

  • Anthropology and Development Studies: First in the UK
  • Politics and International Studies: Fifth in the UK 
  • Social Policy and Social Work: Third in the UK 
  • Sociology: First in the UK 

Politics and International Studies was also ranked second in the UK for the percentage of research judged to be ‘world leading’.  

Our submissions 

The School made submissions across four Units of Assessment (UoAs):  

  • Anthropology and Development Studies 
  • Politics and International Studies 
  • Social Work and Social Policy 
  • Sociology 

The Anthropology and Development Studies submission incorporated Social Anthropology and the Centre of African Studies and our Sociology submission incorporated Sociology and Science, Technology and Innovation Studies. Overall, the submissions involved more than 289 researchers (275 by FTE, including 50 from our partner schools), 23 impact case studies, and the equivalent of 671 publications. This was a 48% increase from REF 2014 by FTE.  

One of our great strengths is that the scale and diversity of our expertise allows us to bring together leading researchers from across disciplines to respond to many of the world’s most pressing problems, in ways that also directly feeds into our teaching. We make up one of the largest schools of social science in the UK and we are proud of our expansive approach to research, with extensive contributions from colleagues across all career stages. Their ongoing research achievements amid the challenges of the pandemic have been exceptional. 

Our impact on local and global society 

A particular feature of our REF2021 submission was the depth of our impact beyond academia, made possible by collaborations across the world. Our impact case studies showed how colleagues, amongst many other things: 

  • Played a key role in informing the Scottish Independence Referendum 
  • Strengthened intergovernmental relations between the UK and devolved governments 
  • Promoted effective governance for universal health coverage 
  • Facilitated the integration of children’s rights into gender-based violence policy 
  • Enabled citizens across the world to rethink South Africa’s past 
  • Informed awareness, policy and practice for patients with implantable medical devices 
  • Helped strengthen the bond between Gaelic language, culture and the fishing industry 
  • Set new standards for best practice in sustainable design in the solar industry. 

Our impact and engagement is even broader than the case studies, covering public policy, civic participation, creative arts, technological innovation, and more, working across the UK and the wider world. We collaborate at both a local and global scale, with partners on four continents, ranging from the WHO to National Museums Scotland, from the Scottish government to anti-corruption units in Malawi. 

Message from the Head of School 

Professor Fiona Mackay, Head of the School of Social and Political Science, said: “We are delighted by these results, which reflect the breadth, diversity and vibrancy of the research carried out here. REF is only one way of measuring the many successes of the School, but these results offer an opportunity to celebrate the extraordinary work of our colleagues and students in Edinburgh and across the sector, as well as our brilliant collaborators around the world.”