REF Explained

What is REF?

The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is an internationally recognised system for assessing the quality of research in UK Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). The results determine the amount of funding received by each HEI.

REF also has other important purposes:

  • A rich evidence base
  • Accountability
  • Performance incentive
  • Reputational benchmark

How is REF Assessed?

The REF assesses research excellence through a process of  peer assessment informed by appropriate quantitive indicators.  The quality of each output submitted is graded as follows:

4* Quality that is world-leading in terms of originality, significance and rigour.
3* Quality that is internationally excellent in terms of originality, significance and rigour but which falls short of the highest standards of excellence.
2* Quality that is recognised internationally in terms of originality, significance and rigour.
1* Quality that is recognised nationally in terms of originality, significance and rigour.
Unclassified Quality that falls below the standard of nationally recognised work. Or work which does not meet the published definition of research for the purposes of this assessment.

 Definition of Research

Research is defined by REF as ‘a process of investigation leading to new insights effectively shared’ ie disseminated within the wider academic domain.

What is an Output?

An output is the result of your investigation – it could be a conference paper, a public lecture, a conference workshop, the organisation of a conference, a journal article, an exhibition or a book which you have either written or edited.  Outputs can be solely your own work or they can be co-produced/authored.

What is Impact?

In a nutshell, impact is the effect on, change or benefit your research makes to the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life beyond academia.  The UCA impact case studies submitted to the 2014 REF  can be viewed here.

A Brief History of REF

The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is the successor to the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE). It is an Impact evaluation; assessing the research of British higher education institutions. It was used in 2014 to assess UK research during the period 2008–2013

In June 2007 the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) issued a circular letter announcing that a new framework for assessing research quality in UK universities would replace the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE), following the 2008 RAE.

HEFCE undertook a consultation exercise during September–December 2009, soliciting responses from stakeholders on the proposals. In July 2010 the Universities and Science minister David Willetts announced that the REF will be delayed by a year in order to assess the efficacy of the impact measure.

In July 2016, Lord Nicholas Stern review was published, drafting general guidelines for the next REF in 2021. In general, the review was supportive with the methodology used in 2014 to evaluate universities’ research, however it emphasised the need for more engagement with the general public and the increase of number of case studies that undertook interdisciplinary approach.

30 years ago UK was the first country to undertake assessment of university research quality. We are still seen as a leader in this area

Overview to REF 2021

1986 Research Selectivity Exercise  RSE
37 subject-based units, 5 best publications in past 5 years

1989 Research Selectivity Exercise  RSE
152 UoAs, 2 publications per member of staff

1992 Research Assessment Exercise RAE
Rating 1-5, 27 UoAs, 2 publications & other outputs

1996 Research Assessment Exercise RAE
Rating 1 – 5*, 69 UoAs, 4 publications per staff member

2001 Research Assessment Exercise RAE
1 – 5*, 69 UoAs, Up to 4 outputs per staff member

2008 Research Assessment Exercise RAE
1*- 4*, 67 UoA, 4 outputs per staff member

2014 Research Excellence Framework REF
Rating 1*- 4*, 36 UoAs, 4 outputs per staff member
Impact Case Studies

2021 Research Excellence Framework REF
To be confirmed!

UCA Response to REF 2021 Consultation