UCML welcomes the REF overview reports (www.ref.ac.uk) which contextualise the REF results released on May 12th 2022. The reports reflect on the results of the Main Panels and of the sub-panels within them. Modern Languages research was submitted in particular to Main Panel D in sub-panel 25 (Area Studies), sub-panel 26 (Modern Languages and Linguistics) and also to sub-panel 27 (English Language and Literature) and to Main Panel C in sub-panel 23 (Education).

The overview reports reflect the ‘strength and vibrancy’ of research in Modern Languages, and noted the ‘significant, often transformational contributions that units of all types and sizes are making to knowledge, culture, well-being, and economic prosperity locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally through their research and its impacts.’[1] Although the results of REF 2014 and REF 2021 are not directly comparable due to changes in submission rules, REF 2021 is a testament to the health of the discipline in terms of increased levels of external research funding, rising postgraduate recruitment (with a much higher growth in sub-panel 26 than other disciplines in Main Panel D), increased proportions of world-leading and internationally excellent outputs, and ‘outstanding’ impact case studies.[2] 

UCML is pleased to see that the report notes world-leading work across different kinds of institutions, in both large and small submissions. The report appreciates the diversity of the formats in which outputs have been submitted, with monographs, edited volumes, journal articles and book chapters supplemented by a range of other formats including electronic dictionaries, scholarly editions, translation/performance, datasets, portfolios and websites. The research outputs span a wide chronological range, drawing on diverse methodological approaches, and covering an impressive spread of languages. The report highlights this multilingual activity as a ‘distinctive element of the broader national and international contribution’ of Modern Languages research and the particular academic expertise it encompasses.[3] UCML is pleased to see the report highlight the way that research into languages, cultures, and societies is conducted in a global frame, with work on national contexts increasingly complemented by attention to transnational processes and entanglements.

In addition, the report praises the ‘adventurous’ and ‘ambitious’ interdisciplinarity of Modern Languages research.[4] Whilst Modern Languages disciplines, due to their sustained focus on cultures and societies, are in many ways intrinsically interdisciplinary, be it thematically, methodologically, conceptually and collaboratively, the report notes important emerging areas of interdisciplinary connections. These include researchers working in fusion with disciplines across education, psychology, medicine and clinical sciences, pure and applied sciences, social sciences, and the humanities.

The REF report shows that Modern Languages can be proud of the reach and significance of its research impact. Modern Languages research demonstrates local, regional, national, and international reach with a wide range of beneficiaries, with evidence of excellence at every level and high quality outcomes from every size of unit. Modern Languages research has shown a diverse range of benefits to the economy, society, culture, public policy and public services, addressing a remarkable variety of contemporary social challenges and areas of urgent public concern. The discipline has revealed and addressed problems at multiple levels across myriad societies and communities in the UK and internationally. It has led to improved provision or access to services, whilst public and political debate, as well as policy decisions or changes to legislation, have been shaped by Modern Languages research. The report notes the way Modern Languages research is instrumental in enhancing cultural heritage preservation and interpretation and has increased cultural participation for marginalised and under-engaged communities.

UCML welcomes the finding that excellent research environments are evident in submissions from units of a range of shapes and sizes. UCML is pleased to see the report note strong support systems in place for ECRs and staff, which strongly resonate with the work our ECA Special Interest Group is undertaking across the sector. The emphasis on the importance of mentoring and support for all stages of the academic lifecycle is a welcome message.  

Furthermore, the report also highlights the important role played by Modern Languages researchers in fostering the health of the discipline though participation in subject associations, learned societies, Research Councils and funding bodies. Given the diversity of languages represented, this work takes on a crucial role and in the challenging climate in which Modern Languages operates, UCML welcomes this recognition of the importance of collaborative working across institutions.

Moving forward, the Overview Report invites us to reflect on a number of areas and action points. The report stresses the increased attention to, and marked improvement in, ED+I matters, especially in terms of gender, and it suggests that  HEIs can further this work by paying greater attention to the full range of protected characteristics, and to the intersectionality between them.  The report suggests that particular attention needs to be paid to Open Access and research integrity in some submissions. It also notes that the structure of the REF framework invites reflection, as it underlines the burden on smaller units to produce two Impact Case Studies for all submissions up to 19.99 FTEs.  In terms of recognition of our discipline, the report highlights that subjects in the Arts and Humanities are rarely mentioned in institutional REF5a (environment indicator) documents. Recognising the key role played by Modern Languages and the Arts and Humanities more broadly is part of an ongoing process of reflection and advocacy on how we build our profile within institutions and foreground the excellent work that this report outlines.

[1] Main Panel D Overview Report, p. 67.

[2] Main Panel D Overview Report, p. 67.

[3] Main Panel D Overview Report, p. 69.

[4] Main Panel D Overview Report, p. 71.

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