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REF 2021 - Research Excellence Framework

What is the REF?

The Research Excellence Framework or REF is the system for assessing the quality of research in UK higher education institutions (HEIs) through a process of peer-review.

All higher education institutions were invited to submit up to 34 units of assessment or disciplines in March 2021 (delayed from November 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic). Submissions were assessed by an expert sub-panel of academics and users of research for each unit of assessment, working under the guidance of four main panels. Sub-panels applied a set of generic assessment criteria and level definitions, to produce an overall quality profile for each submission.

There are three key elements:

  • The quality of research outputs (65 per cent).
  • The impact of research which considered the effect of the research on the economy, society, public policy, culture and quality of life (20 per cent).
  • The vitality and sustainability of the research environment which considered the research strategy, research culture, infrastructure and environment, and partnerships and contributions to the scholarly community, society and the economy. including research income and research degrees awarded (15 per cent).

The REF has been carried out by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) on behalf of all four UK HE funding councils. Its main purposes are to inform the selective allocation of QR (quality related) funding, provide accountability for public investment in research and provide benchmarking information.