18 Dec 2014

Open University combines open access with research excellence

REF 2014

REF 2014

The Open University’s (OU) results in the Research Excellence Framework (REF) published today (Thursday 18 December) demonstrate world leading research excellence in many of its subjects. The OU is unique among UK universities having both an access mission and demonstrating research excellence.

The REF results saw nearly three quarters (72%) of The Open University’s research assessed as 4 or 3 star – the highest ratings available – and awarded to research that is world-leading or internationally excellent. The OU saw a significant increase in its excellence scores across almost all subject areas.

Research is at the heart of The Open University’s work – underpinning the teaching it provides as the UK’s largest university to around 200,000 students. It also informs the programmes it makes with the BBC, reaching 40 million viewers every year and features in the OU’s myriad open education resources – massively extending global access to higher education.

Acting Vice-Chancellor of The Open University, Professor Tim Blackman, said:

“These results demonstrate the huge quality and diversity of research undertaken by higher education institutes right across the UK, and we are particularly proud of how we have performed here at the OU. Woven into our mission is a commitment to increase the public’s access to high quality research and teaching, so it is immensely gratifying to see these results shining a light on the impact our research has on people’s lives right around the world – from our students to teachers and pupils in Africa, to financial traders in European Investment Banks.”

The OU was ranked in the UK top ten for Music, Drama, Dance and Performing Arts, in the top 20 for Education and Art and Design, and in the top third for Business and Management, and Computing Science and Informatics. In addition, the OU was ranked in the top 10% for the impact of its research in History.

Examples of some of its world-leading and internationally excellent projects which are breaking down the barriers between the public and high quality academic research include:

Shaping global development of open educational resources – OU research led to the development of OpenLearn, a website with 10,000 hours of open learning material, accessed by over 22 million visitors and with 200,000 registered users – and to the OU forming FutureLearn – the UK’s first MOOC platform.
Expanding public awareness through BBC programming – OU researchers in British history and environmental issues informed BBC programmes and associated free learning content on the OU’s OpenLearn website – reaching millions worldwide.
Capturing mass data for people’s experiences of listening to music – OU was ranked 6th out of 74 universities in music, drama, dance and performing arts and our listening database has captured over 1,000 listening experiences from the public.
Over 500,000 teachers in Sub-Saharan Africa are using open educational resources developed through collaborative OU research.
Creation of an international network of citizen scientists who are undertaking measurements at active volcanoes across the world. This is empowering local communities to play a part in hazard mitigation.
Public engagement in biodiversity monitoring – our research on technologies in science learning has led to increased public participation with 24,000 active participants using the OU’s iSpot website to develop their understanding of species identification, making 250,000 nature observations and identifying new species.
Capturing the public’s reading experiences – the OU has created the world’s largest single resource capturing the choices, habits and opinions of readers across the British Isles over the past 500 years.
Transforming NHS leadership – OU research into healthcare leadership has influenced the new model of leadership adopted by the NHS’s National Leadership Academy – the largest leadership programme expected to involve over 25,000 people.
Empowering children as researchers – OU has conducted the first research to focus purely on research by children about issues they have identified as important to them.
Improving decision-making in financial environments – OU research is helping financial traders learn how to regulate their emotions to avoid costly mistakes in investment banking.

The Research Excellence Framework is the new system for assessing the quality of research in UK higher education institutions (HEIs), replacing the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) which was last carried out in 2008. The assessment is carried out by the four UK funding bodies for higher education and managed by the REF team based at the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE).
In addition to overall quality, research is assessed on its outputs, impact and environment for research.

Notes to editors

1. Open Research Online is The Open University's repository of research publications and other research outputs. It is an Open Access resource that can be searched and browsed freely by members of the public. It has 27,291 research publications.

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