School recognised for its world-leading research and impact

12 May 2022

Over 94% of research carried out by the School of Geography and Sustainable Development at the University of St Andrews is world-leading or internationally excellent, according to the results of the Research Excellence Framework (REF 2021) published today (Thursday 12 May).

The REF – a detailed analysis of the research strengths of all UK universities – found that St Andrews excelled in a number of key research areas – including Geography and Sustainable Development.

The School leads Scottish research in geography and environmental studies in terms of the proportion of outputs that are exceptional in originality, significance and rigour and continues to provide an internationally excellent research environment for staff and students.

Research impact was also considered to be world-leading and internationally excellent according to REF 2021, showing sustained excellence and growth in research impact over last decade.

Head of School, Professor Dan Clayton, commented “I’m delighted that the quality of our research outputs has been recognised. This is an endorsement of the School’s commitment to addressing global problems with the highest-quality thinking and research”. 

REF found that the overall quality of research at St Andrews had increased by 5.7 % since the last assessment exercise in 2014.

Although REF itself explicitly does not rank universities according to research strengths, the metrics it produces are widely used in the higher education sector and in the media to benchmark research performance.

According to these figures, using the method of Grade Point Average (GPA), St Andrews was ranked 3rd in Scotland and 28th in the UK, one of six Scottish universities ranked amongst the top 50 research institutions in the UK.

Research at the School of Geography and Sustainable Development at St Andrews which REF judged to be world-leading included:

•    Assessing blue carbon resources: Oceans play a vital role in trapping and storing atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) that would otherwise contribute to global warming. Researchers have been working in partnership with the Scottish Government to better understand the role Scotland’s ‘blue carbon’ resources might play in mitigating and adapting to climate change.

•    Migration and constitutional change in Scotland: evidencing policy positions, informing practitioners and shaping public perceptions.   

•    Enhancing resilience, improving livelihoods and protecting carbon stocks of intact tropical peatlands in the Amazon and Congo basins.

Full details of the Research Excellence Framework 2021 are available via

University of St Andrews REF 2021 results are available at: