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Faculty of Music


The results from the latest Research Excellence Framework (REF 2021) have highlighted the global impact of Cambridge’s research in the field of Music.

95% of Cambridge’s overall submission within its Unit of Assessment has been rated as ‘world leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’, demonstrating the major impact that researchers in our department are making every day. The Times Higher Education’s rankings placed research in Music at Cambridge at no. 7 in an assessment grouping spanning Music, Drama Dance, Performing Arts, Film and Screen Studies. The average weighted score – the ‘grade point average’ – for Music is 3.58, up from 3.06 in the previous exercise of 2014.

Music returned some 28 full- and part-time academics to the REF, an increase of 16% in size as compared with 2014. Within our unit of assessment, 92.3% of Cambridge’s research submissions were awarded ratings of 3* or 4*, with 50.8% given the top rating of ‘world leading’ (an increase from 33.3% in 2014) and 41.5% rated internationally excellent.

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. 100% of impact in Music was judged to be either internationally excellent (3*) or world leading (4*), with 83.3% in the top category.

Cambridge Music’s individual research submissions to REF 2021 have between them won 11 international prizes. They include awards for early career researchers, for interdisciplinary work, and for composition, editing and recorded performance.  Our impact case studies ranged from encouraging new reconstructions of 9th-century songs to hauntingly beautiful texts by Boethius (Prof. Sam Barrett), to public engagement on Russian musical culture of the 19th and 20th centuries (Prof. Marina Frolova-Walker), to the international unveiling of a new Liszt opera, Sardanapalo, which was pieced together and orchestrated from Liszt’s shorthand, having lain abandoned for 170-odd years (Prof. David Trippett). From Chile and the USA to Germany, Switzerland, Ireland and the Netherlands, international impacts reached millions of music lovers via concert and competition programming, broadcasts, educational initiatives, and curricular take-up.

Professor Katharine Ellis, Chair of the Faculty Board of Music, said: “The results of REF 2021 for Music speak to an enviable combination at Cambridge of rugged individualism, creative teamwork, and commitment to public engagement. They reflect the exceptional value of Music as an academic subject combining research in the arts, humanities, and sciences—all of which are represented in our submission. I am delighted to see so much intellectual energy and hard graft recognised in this way and would like to congratulate and thank everyone who contributed to our success.”

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 has led to this outstanding result. This is our most inclusive submission yet, and we have seen strong performances across the board, from Clinical Medicine and Earth Sciences through to Architecture, Sociology and Music.

“What we see today is not just the excellence of Cambridge research, but also the reach and significance of its impact, with researchers across many disciplines bringing a fresh perspective on how we tackle major problems facing our world today.”

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.  For the purposes of Cambridge’s submission, each eligible researcher across all academic disciplines was assigned to one of 30 units of assessment (subject areas). Each unit was judged by three criteria – outputs (such as publications, performances, and exhibitions), their impact, and the environment that supports research.