Royal Conservatoire leads Scotland’s Higher Education Institutions for research impact in the performing arts
Research carried out by academics at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS) leads Scotland in terms of real-world impact, according to a UK-wide assessment of research quality at higher education institutions.
A vital element of REF 2021 is illustrating the real-world benefits of research. At the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, researchers harness the transformative power of the performing arts to enrich society and bring about meaningful change.
The results of the Research Excellence Framework 2021 (REF 2021), announced today (Thursday, May 12), reveal that two-thirds of research impact at Scotland’s conservatoire is world-leading in terms of its reach and significance, making the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland the highest ranked Higher Education Institution (HEI) in Scotland for research impact in the performing arts, and one of the highest for research impact in all disciplines.
High-impact research conducted at RCS includes in-depth studies into music education in Scotland, impacting on public policy; work exploring the role of creativity to support families experiencing significant life events; as well as research that supports children and adults with additional support needs to develop their creativity in music. These projects were carried out in close partnership with key national organisations including Creative Scotland, Chamber Music Scotland and Drake Music Scotland.
The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is undertaken jointly by all four UK higher education funding bodies – the Scottish Funding Council, Research England, the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales and the Department for the Economy, Northern Ireland.
REF is carried out approximately every six to seven years to assess the quality of research across UK universities, demonstrate the quality and output of their research on a domestic and global stage and to show the impact their research has on the academic environment and society. National funding bodies use the REF to inform the allocation of around £2 billion of research funding per year.
In terms of overall assessment by REF 2021, 63% of research at RCS was rated ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’. The Conservatoire’s submission to the performing arts panel of REF 2021 was also the largest of any institution in Scotland.
RCS’s world-class research centres on two main strands of activity – Artistic Research (Practice Research or Research in-and-through the arts) and the Performing Arts in Society.
Within these strands, there are clusters around New Work and Improvisation, Transdisciplinary Artistic Research, Art in the Anthropocene, Health and Wellbeing and Performing Arts Education.
Professor Jeffrey Sharkey, Principal of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, said:
“I’m so proud to see the excellent research undertaken by our staff members, with our partners being recognised on a national stage for the real impact it has in the world.
“In the 175th anniversary year of our founding on the principles of sharing creativity with all, this is wonderful recognition, both of the pioneering work of our staff, and also of the power the arts can have in society to make positive and transformative change.”
Professor Stephen Broad, Director of Research and Knowledge Exchange at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, said:
“I am full of admiration for my colleagues whose exciting and important work is reflected in this result. The Conservatoire’s researchers care about making a difference in the world – that’s why they do what they do – and we are lucky to work with some incredible partners who share our ambition to change lives for the better.”
The high-impact research undertaken at RCS includes:
- What’s Going On? and the Youth Music Initiative (YMI)
A long-term partnership with Creative Scotland, developing an evidence base upon which to develop policy on music provision for young people.
The Youth Music Initiative is a national funding and development programme for young people’s music in Scotland, managed by Creative Scotland. It was established following the publication in the early 2000s of What’s Going On?, a report by a team of researchers at the Conservatoire. Since then, it has supported Scottish local authorities to provide universal initial music-making experiences in schools and funded local and national music initiatives in the informal and nonformal sectors, allowing countless young people to make music who would not otherwise have done so. Over 18 years, successive Scottish Governments have invested £164.5m in the Youth Music Initiative, and it is distinctive, and possibly unique, internationally.
Morag Macdonald, Youth Music Initiative Manger at Creative Scotland, said: “The What’s Going On? research undertaken by the RCS was instrumental in the creation of the Youth Music Initiative and throughout the years we have relied on high quality, evidence-based policy to demonstrate the value of access to music making for all children and young people in Scotland.”
This year, the YMI celebrates its 20th anniversary, and the research partnership continues.
- Coorie Doon – ‘It’s There Forever That Song’
Coorie Doon (Scots for ‘cuddle up’) is an initiative that gives families a chance to make meaning and memories through song. Run by Chamber Music Scotland (CMS) and led by RCS researcher Dr Rachel Drury, it is both a song-writing project for individuals and families experiencing significant life events, and an ongoing action research project exploring the processes and impact of collaborative songwriting. The Coorie Doon process centres on the act of co-writing songs with participants in a family setting.
The approach is not to listen to their stories and write a song for them, but to provide the means for each participant to write their own song and take ownership over it. Families engage in every part of the process from writing the lyrics to choosing the chords and melodies, to recording and in some cases performing the songs.
Paul Tracey, CEO of Chamber Music Scotland, said: “Coorie Doon is a really special project for us, and it is a powerful example of how music connects us and can provide comfort, purpose and hope in even our most testing times. The human interconnections between families and the artists involved, alongside our intuitive need to create and share music as a means of understanding and processing our lives, has created meaningful legacies lasting well beyond the project.”
Over successive iterations of Coorie Doon, individuals and families have felt the power of music to express, celebrate and commemorate the love they feel for their children.
- Challenging Creativity – Technophonia, Microscopic Dances and Drake Music Scotland’s Digital Orchestra
Since 1997, Drake Music Scotland (DMS) has used digital technology to enable disabled young people to participate in music-making. The music it commissioned from composer and RCS researcher Oliver Searle, first in 2012 and then in 2017, has unlocked new experiences for DMS musicians, and new ambitions for the organisation and the young people with whom it works.
Searle’s work has tilted the balance from active participation to education and achievement, developing the agency of the young musicians involved, while high-profile performances have changed wider perceptions of the musical capacities of disabled musicians.
Thursa Sanderson, CEO of Drake Music Scotland, said: “The idea of the project was to feature the technologies our young disabled musicians play in juxtaposition with the conventional instruments played by their peers. The resulting mixed ensemble with its unique instrumentation was used to highlight – for the players and their audience at several performances – that this was literally a ‘level playing field’ in which all parties had an equal but distinctive part to play.”
Searle’s continuing collaboration with DMS has opened new creative routes for disabled performers and composers who are now developing their ambitions and contributing to the composition studies at RCS. This highlights how the new technologies giving DMS artists access to music making and learning also offer huge potential for innovation and creativity in composition.
For REF 2021, 157 UK higher education institutions participated in the exercise, submitting evidence of their research activity, which includes:
- Research outputs made publicly available between 2014 and 2020.
- Impact case studies detailing real-world benefits the research has delivered.
- Evidence of how the research environment has supported the research and its application or impact.
A research output is any form of research published, or otherwise made publicly available, within the set period, such as chapters in books, musical compositions, exhibitions, journal articles, authored books and performances.