Department of Media and Communications REF 2021 Results

Research Excellence Framework

As part of our submission to REF 2021, we submitted three Impact Case Studies. All were recognised as world-leading.

The LSE Department of Media and Communications is delighted to have been ranked #1 in the UK in the 2021 Research Excellence Framework (REF) for Unit of Assessment 34: Communication, Cultural and Media Studies, Library and Information Management.

64 per cent of our research outputs were considered ‘world-leading’ and awarded the highest 4 star rating, as were all three of our impact case studies and our research environment. A further 32 per cent of our outputs were considered ‘internationally excellent’ (3 star).

The Department encourages its academic staff to engage with policy-makers and other stakeholders by fostering an environment that positively values outreach activities, sustaining these throughout our research projects. Read more here.

See here for research focus, themes and projects.

About REF 2021

The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is the system by which the UK’s higher education funding bodies assess the quality of research in publicly funded UK higher education institutions (HEIs). REF 2021 comprised three elements:

  • academic outputs, comprising a portfolio based on the FTE of REF-eligible staff submitted;
  • research impact, submitted as a number of impact case studies (ICSs) in proportion to the total FTE of REF-eligible staff submitted;
  • research environment, comprising the total number of research degrees awarded between 2014 and 2020, total research income received over the same time period, and an environment statement detailing how the submitting unit(s) supported research and impact over the period.

Outputs, impact and environment were weighted 60:25:15 respectively.  All three elements were graded on a scale from 0 (unclassified) to 4* (world leading) and the results were published as quality profiles showing the percentage of outputs, impact and environment considered to meet each of the starred levels. Submissions were invited to 34 Units of Assessment (UoAs); LSE made 15 submissions to 13 UoAs across the SHAPE subjects.

For REF 2021, HEIs were required to submit research outputs by all eligible members of staff.  Each submitted member of staff could submit between one and five outputs, with the total number of outputs per UoA calculated as total FTE of staff multiplied by 2.5. 

Staff were eligible for REF 2021 where they were on a teaching-and-research or research-only contract of at least 0.2 FTE on 31 July 2020 and had a substantive connection to the submitting HEI. Research-only staff also had to be classified as independent researchers. HEIs were also required to identify which eligible staff had significant responsibility for research. LSE submitted 100% of its staff meeting these definitions, but other HEIs had eligible staff who did not have significant responsibility for research and hence had a submission rate of less than 100%.

See here for a full glossary of REF terminology. 

Impact Case Studies

The Department of Media and Communications also submitted three Impact Case Studies, demonstrating the impact of our research on policymakers, journalists and industry in the UK and elsewhere in the world.

Our ground-breaking work also generates high levels of public interest, a fact reflected in its frequent coverage by national and international media. It responds to that interest through an extensive programme of public lectures and knowledge exhange activities.

Our three Impact Case Studies were recognised as world leading:


Realising children's rights in a digital world

Professor Sonia Livingstone

LSE research has systematically investigated children’s rights online, and shaped national and international policies to protect children and enhance their human rights in the digital environment.  

In recent years there has been intense discussion about children’s safety online. Children’s digital experiences vary depending on their location and circumstances, but there has been little research on what factors determine particular risks and what policies are effective for protecting children from online harms.  

Wider questions about the opportunities and the digital needs of children in terms of education and the right to fully participate in society remain underexamined. The global evidence base for many aspects of children’s digital lives is partial and fragmented, with pressing gaps in knowledge about children in the Global South, how they use the internet, and what opportunities they are missing.  


From skills to outcomes: improving digital inequalities metrics, policy, and interventions

Professor Ellen Helsper

LSE research has transformed how national and international organisations measure, design, and implement policies to tackle digital inequalities.  

As societies rapidly become more reliant on digital technologies, there is optimism that the widespread adoption of information and communication technologies, such as the internet and mobile phones, will provide economic, cultural, and social opportunities to the most disadvantaged in many parts of the world. The expectation is often that improving access to digital communication allows left-behind societies to catch up with places and people who are traditionally better off. 

However, digital and social exclusion relate to each other, and to assess the possibilities for greater digital engagement, first we need to measure the nature of digital inequalities and understand for whom and under which circumstances digitisation is likely to lead wider social benefits. 


Regulating media power in democracies

Dr Damian Tambini

LSE research identified new legal concepts for constraining the power of platform companies, helping to protect media plurality and freedom of expression. 

The power and reach of digital platform companies like Facebook (now Meta), Twitter, and Google have created new challenges in the complex relationship between freedom of expression, media law, and self-regulation.  

The digital transformation of the media landscape raises policy questions in three broad areas: the regulation of online political campaigning; media plurality law and regulation; and platform governance. Online election campaigning in particular has been at the forefront of concerns about the power of new platform companies and the challenges of regulating online spaces.