The University of Portsmouth has been ranked the top modern university in the country for Area Studies.

REF 2021 confirms the world-leading status of our research in Area Studies. We are the best modern university for research quality and research power, according to Times Higher Education. We have improved on our excellent performance in REF 2014, and consolidated our position as a top-tier university for Area Studies research. We are proud that REF has commended our vibrant community of researchers, and the rich diversity and fresh perspectives offered by our research.

This impressive result is particularly gratifying given the big increase in the size of our submission, which is the second largest in the University. Our REF 2021 entry contains 78 researchers, almost double the number of staff submitted in 2014. We also made considerable progress in improving our gender balance, with women now comprising 50% of our entry.

We focus on research that is relevant to societal needs and empowers marginalised and vulnerable groups. The results reveal that our research is making a substantial difference to people in the wider world, with 100% of our impact being judged as having outstanding or very considerable reach and significance. This demonstrates that we excel in civic engagement, on a local and global scale.

Our strategy to increase and diversify our income streams has been successful. We boosted our research and innovation income by 44% between 2014 and 2020, exceeding our target of 25%. Area Studies researchers secured income awards from 20 different funding bodies.

Our REF entry underlined that postgraduate research students are the centrepiece of our research environment. We are proud that the ESRC awarded us the South Coast Doctoral Training Partnership in recognition of our commitment to the student experience, along with our partners at the University of Southampton and the University of Brighton. Portsmouth is the only university in the partnership with an Area Studies pathway. 

Results in REF 2021

  • 73.9% of our research outputs were judged to be world-leading or internationally excellent.
  • 100% of our impact was rated as having outstanding or very considerable reach and significance.
  • 100% of our research environment was judged as having the vitality and sustainability to produce world-leading or internationally excellent research.

Research areas

Area Studies researchers are members of the Centre for European and International Studies Research (CEISR). CEISR’s research groups contain academics from a mix of disciplines, which encourages the cross-fertilisation of research between African StudiesGender StudiesHistoryInternational RelationsPoliticsLanguagesSociology and Journalism and Media Studies, among other areas of study.

CEISR’s significant contribution to interdisciplinarity was recognised in a British Academy report Crossing Paths: Interdisciplinarity Institutions, Careers, Education and Applications (2016). CEISR was one of seven research centres in the UK identified as exhibiting a track record in interdisciplinary work. The report praised CEISR for nurturing a vibrant and expansive interdisciplinary research culture that informs both teaching and research. 

Professor Brad Beaven

Inspiring local and global citizen researchers: Exploring war and urban communities in the First World War

Professor Brad Beaven drew thousands of adults and children into workshops on historical research and interpretation. Several hundred people were empowered to make direct contributions to the source base for exhibitions that were organised by Portsmouth City Council and the National Museum of the Royal Navy. Beaven’s expertise on the Battle of Jutland informed the creation of an interactive electronic map, which attracted over 1 million visitors within one month of its launch and inspired citizen researchers from around the world to make contributions to the database.

Man wearing Halloween mask

DarkFest: Connecting communities and enhancing creative cultures in Portsmouth

Since 2016, DarkFest has established itself as one of Portsmouth’s main creative festivals. Dr Karl Bell’s historical research into the urban supernatural directly informed and shaped the initial activities that created it. Bell’s ongoing support has enabled local creatives to take increasing ownership of the festival. Its growth has led to the involvement of the city’s major cultural institutions, including its theatres, Southsea Castle and the Historic Dockyard. DarkFest has helped connect the city’s diverse but fragmented artistic communities, providing them with common themes and a coherent platform through which to annually showcase their talent.

Henna design on person's hand in traditional Asian attire

The importance of peer networks for ending violence against women in South Asia: Bangladesh, Myanmar and Nepal

Professor Tamsin Bradley’s research has made a significant contribution towards the goal of ending violence against women and girls in Bangladesh, Myanmar and Nepal. Her work has increased awareness, informed programmes and initiatives, and increased the resilience of women at community level. According to the World Health Organisation, around 30% of all women and girls have experienced some form of violence. Working directly with affected communities, this research has established the value of peer networks for resilience building. It has helped to bring such groups into existence, which have become part of the strategies of women’s rights organisations, international agencies and local governments.

Open air school in rural village in Africa

Changing NGO translation practice to empower communities in development

Dr Angela Crack’s research empowered communities in the poorest parts of the world to engage actively with Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) that provide lifesaving aid. It demonstrated that local languages are crucial for NGOs to build strong relationships with communities and ensure the successful delivery of development projects. NGOs serving hundreds of thousands of people in Malawi and Peru adopted the recommendations, leading to improved community engagement with NGO projects and more positive practical outcomes. The research has been promoted as a vital contribution to UK government aid policy through Parliament and the UK’s national academies.

Infrastructure and facilities

Research support is provided by the Humanities and Social Science Research and Innovation Office (HSSRIO), led by the Faculty’s Research and Innovation Manager. HSSRIO works with counterparts in the Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries to consolidate knowledge, experience and expertise on funding bodies and the research funding environment, and organise a well-attended programme of interdisciplinary workshops (led by senior Area Studies staff) on research funding and related topics.

Continuing our longstanding policy of developing our intellectual infrastructure, CEISR has benefitted from substantial library investments over the REF period, totalling £733,000. This includes the permanent acquisition of major UK, European, North American and Chinese newspaper archives, and thematic resource collections ranging from the holdings of the Naval Records Society to visual cultures of the First World War and the history of film censorship in 20th-century USA. The resources of the Churchill Archive are complemented by a collection on London Low Life from the 18th to the 20th Centuries. New access to materials such as the Calendars of State Papers and the Mass Observation Archive has been complemented by a selection of several extensive collections on women’s and gender history and the history of sexuality, and on African-American histories.