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School of the Biological Sciences

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The results from the latest Research Excellence Framework (REF) have highlighted the global impact of Cambridge’s research, confirming our strength in quality and impact across the Biological Sciences.

The nine Departments and four inter-disciplinary research institutes within the School of Biological Sciences largely submit returns to the Biological Sciences unit of assessment (UoA5), with additional contributions made to Clinical Medicine (UoA1), Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience (UoA4), and Agriculture, Food and Veterinary Sciences (UoA6).

Across the units of assessment within the School of Biological Sciences, 93% of Cambridge’s submissions were rated as 4* ‘world-leading’ or 3* ‘internationally excellent', an increase from 82% in 2014. 

Moreover, the School is particularly proud that the environment in which Biological Sciences research takes place at Cambridge has once again been recognised as world-leading, reflecting our ongoing commitment to an innovative, inclusive, and interdisciplinary research community. Our Departments and pioneering Research Themes play an integral role in fostering a thriving and collaborative research environment.

The depth and breadth of Biological Sciences research at Cambridge has delivered an impressive range of positive impact across the UK and around the world. From influencing policy and legislation on diverse family forms, to developing ‘BioBullets’ to tackle pests in water supplies, the scope of our research is truly extraordinary. You can read more about our global impact on the Cambridge Impact Map.

Professor Anna Philpott, Head of the School of Biological Sciences, said: “I am delighted that the outcomes of REF 2021 continue to recognise the research excellence in the Biological Sciences that is ongoing at Cambridge. Our goal now is to build on this momentum, striving to deliver research and teaching at the highest levels, whilst developing innovative ways to evolve and improve further. I offer my sincere thanks to all who have contributed to this success amid the challenges of a global pandemic, and everyone involved in the mammoth task that is REF reporting!”

Professor Anne Ferguson-Smith, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research, added: “I would like to congratulate and thank everyone who has taken part in this year’s REF for all their hard work, which we believe has paid off in these results. What we see today is not just the excellence of Cambridge research, but also the breadth of its impact, with researchers across many disciplines bringing a fresh perspective on how we tackle major problems facing our world today.”

Read more about the University of Cambridge's REF results. Full results from all Universities across the UK are available from the Research Excellence Framework 2021 website.


The REF is the system for assessing the quality of research in UK higher education institutions and is undertaken by the four UK higher education funding bodies: Research England, the Scottish Funding Council, the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, and the Department for the Economy, Northern Ireland.

Among the data submitted by universities and other institutions are case studies that describe the impact of their research – where they have made a difference to society, health, the economy, for example.

For the purpose of the REF, each academic discipline is assigned to one of 30 out of a possible 34 units of assessment such as Clinical Medicine, Chemistry, Business and Management Studies and Philosophy. Each unit is judged by three criteria – outputs (such as publications, performances, and exhibitions), their impact, and the environment that supports research.