Post REF – could you help us define the future of music and dance?

Jonathan Clark 800x400

The Government’s 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF), which assesses the quality of research at UK higher education institutions, found that 68% of Trinity Laban’s research was classified as “internationally excellent” or “world class,” with 100% of research impact deemed as “internationally excellent” or “world class.”

Dr Jonathan Clark, Head of Research at Trinity Laban, talks about the REF results and the next five years.

A Trinity Laban Governor asked me for a soundbite about our research and I said: “We’re the Swansea City of REF!”.  Football and research don’t often get mentioned in the same breath but for me the analogy really resonates. As a diehard Swansea fan, I’m happy to see them back in the middle of the premier league table. As the Head of Research, it says to me that our research team might be mid table in REF terms but we are batting above our weight overall.

This was our first foray into the REF world and it was an excellent result for us. It means that our research is making a huge impact around the world – influencing performers, educators and policy makers.

But just as importantly it shows that this is a wonderfully energetic environment in which to conduct practice-based research. Whether we like it or not, REF matters for our reputation and our REF result – particularly with the Times Higher Education ranking Trinity Laban number 1 in research intensity across all conservatoires – means we have maybe surprised some in the sector. I’ve had conversations with fellow research directors who have been remarking how they feel that Trinity Laban is now one of the most interesting conservatoires in terms of the varied nature of our research work. And this is true – we’re doing unique research, and we’re also doing this in an inclusive way.

REF is also a huge boost to us in terms of attracting more doctoral students, because it is evidence that Trinity Laban offers both great facilities and a vibrant environment for research. We’re on the map now in terms of research activity, and to consolidate this we’ve also just opened our new Research Hub for students and to host research-related events.

The sort of students we’re looking for? Well, they need to match the staff research interests – composition, historical performance, aesthetics and music psychology and dance science are some of the areas we already do significant research in, and we would like to see more students coming here to work with our staff.

We also want to develop more collaborative projects, across music and dance, as well as other art forms, for example in visual arts and film, so there’s a lot of flexibility regarding research topics here.

Look at some of our research alumni – Nicola Conibere’s work Do-Re-Me, which has just finished a successful run at the Hayward Gallery; and João Lima Duque, whose ASSAULT invasions show him appearing to break into iconic buildings like the Royal Albert Hall and the Van Gogh Museum at night and playing the piano to an empty room. It’s witty, it’s politically aware and it breaks down barriers to arts. It’s also risky and unusual – and Trinity Laban is a good place for these attributes!

Over the next five years I want to continue building the team and get our existing teaching staff across both music and dance to become more research active – and make our teaching more research-informed. We’ve got top researchers like Wayne McGregor, Emma Redding – whose work was instrumental in the “impact” section of REF – Sam Hayden and John Irving and want to grow this world class team.

Over the spring Trinity Laban will welcome applications from PhD students wishing to conduct practice-based research in the fields of music and dance. For more information email

Dr Johnathan Clark

Head of Research, Trinity Laban

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