Research Excellence Framework 2021 results show significant progress for University of Liverpool

Posted on: 6 July 2022 in Issue 2

After making significant progress in the Research Excellence Framework 2021, the University has reinforced its place as a world leading research institution. To add to this excellent result, each of the Impact Case Studies submitted by the University can be aligned with at least one of the UNSDG targets.

The results of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021 have classified 91% of the University of Liverpool’s research as world-leading (4*) or internationally excellent (3*) placing us 25th in the UK. Read more about this here.

When the United Nations came together to identify 17 headline Sustainable Development Goals, there seemed to be a natural match for many of the University’s impactful research projects, particularly in relation to opportunities through the Global Challenges Research Fund, launched in the same year.

Over time, and with the breakdown of the 169 targets laid out in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, it became even clearer that almost all of our research endeavours, and particularly our Impact Case Studies for REF2021, could be aligned with at least one of the targets, regardless of subject or discipline.

As these goals and targets are central to the ongoing sustainability agenda across the sector, and form a ‘blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all’, funding bodies and policymakers are increasingly keen to show how UK research aligns to, and supports these goals, as clear objectives for societal improvement. We might expect funders and future assessment exercises to look favourably on examples, which can clearly demonstrate how our work fits into the agenda for Sustainable Development

The SDG goals and targets are very broad, and cover the full spectrum of societal challenges. This means that research being undertaken at the University will usually match at least one of the identified aspirations. Now that the REF2021 database of all submitted case studies is available for anyone use, it seems like the perfect opportunity to demonstrate how some of these case studies support and align to the SDGs and in doing so, help researchers consider how their own work might fit.

Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS)

In the Department of Sociology, Social Policy and Criminology (SSPC), one of our case studies, Tackling Childhood Obesity: Defining Food Marketing as a Global Child Rights Concern, is concerned with the effective regulation of food marketing as a means to prevent chronic diseases. There are some very obvious links here, but three of the goals seem particularly applicable:

• SDG 2: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
• SDG 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
• SDG 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production

Further, we can drill down to the targets, and might highlight:

• Target 2.1: End hunger and ensure access by all people… to safe, nutritious and sufficient food all year round
• Target 3.4: Reduce… mortality from non-communicable diseases through prevention and treatment and promote mental health and well-being
• Target pathway 3.d: Strengthen the capacity of all countries… for early warning, risk reduction and management of national and global health risks

In Communications and Media, a case study around experiences of online harassment in their peer groups, #Speakout: Tackling online harassment among students in educational institutions, lead to policy and practitioner tools and recommendations. In this instance, a number of top-level goals are applicable:

• SDG 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
• SDG 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
• SDG 16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels

Again, we can drill further down to specific objectives such as:

• Target 4.5: eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access… including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations
• Target pathway 4.a: Build and upgrade education facilities that are child, disability and gender sensitive and provide safe, non- violent, inclusive and effective learning environments for all

Within HSS, there are a number of subject areas that might not immediately spring to mind as being about sustainability. Take the example of a case study from Languages, Cultures and Film, Using musical film to bring about wellbeing benefits for the over 65s, including those living with a dementia diagnosis, and professional benefits for their carers in Merseyside and Brazil. This aligns with SDG 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages, with specific reference to:

• Target 3.4: Prevention and treatment and promote mental health and well-being
• Target 3.c: Substantially increase… training and retention of the health workforce in developing countries, especially in least developed countries and small island developing States

Faculty of Health and Life Sciences

A major and on-going project forms the basis of an HLS impact case study, entitled Addressing the global burden of disease from household air pollution: Prevention through equitable scale of clean cooking in Cameroon, profiling Professor Dan Pope’s clean fuel work in Africa. Whereas many households in Africa have typically burned wood fuel as the basic means of cooking, working extensively with community groups, policy makers and health professionals, this work has resulted in a transition to gas stove cooking, with great positive effects on respiratory health in those populations. This research is aligned to SDG7: Affordable and Clean energy

Professor Simon Capewell and Martin O’Flaherty have had a major role in evidencing the benefits of policies designed to reduce the consumption of sugar, salt and transfats. Their modelling work, packaged as one of REF2021s Impact Case Study, Food policies and disease prevention: The IMPACT model, has informed policy makers in the UK and internationally, and has supported lobbying groups in pressing for such controversial interventions as a sugar tax.

On a related theme, Dr Emma Boyland’s case study, Unhealthy food advertising to children: Impacting on a watershed policy, shows how her research outputs helped inform a UK Government decision to introduce an advertising watershed for certain high sugar foods, to help protect child health and combat high and rising levels of childhood obesity. Both of these case studies support the delivery of SDG 3: Good health and wealth being.

In an Impact Case Study in development for submission in 2027, entitled Condatis: Bigger, better and more joined-up habitat networks, we are showcasing the impacts of Dr Jenny Hodgson’s work on climate change which is helping land use planners plan for protection of biodiversity as climate change leads to widescale habitat changes. This work, aligned to SDG 13: Climate Action, is helping to ensure migration corridors to promote protection of species, through ensuring provision of the habitats they rely on.

Faculty of Science and Engineering

In the Department of Geography and Planning, one of our case studies, Achieving low-carbon growth across small businesses in Liverpool City Region, supports innovation and the move to a cleaner, low carbon economy. A number of goals are relevant to this case but the following are the most applicable:

• SDG 7: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
• SDG 9: Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation

This impact case study, alongside another from Engineering, Unlocking manufacturing competitiveness by increasing digital engineering literacy: enabling reality from research, also aligns to SDG 8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.

A further impact case study from the Department of Earth Ocean and Ecological Sciences, Liverpool volcanology research improves monitoring practice, influences decision making, and prevents loss of life in Guatemala, influenced the adoption of new methods and monitoring practices for monitoring geological hazards in Guatemala. This case study directly aligns with SDG 13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impact, and in particular target 13.1: Strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and natural disasters in all countries.

A number of case studies from the Departments of Computer Science, Geodemographic classifications boost public service provision, encourage sustainable travel, promote the arts, and aid advocacy efforts, and Geography and Planning, Generating geographic data to inform policy, social welfare and learning for tackling health and social inequalities, involve the Geographic Data Science Lab. These can be linked to:

• SDG 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
• SDG 10: Reduce inequality within and among countries
• SDG 11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable

Find out more about the Impact Case Studies via the REF Database.