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The Research Excellence Framework (REF)

The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is a national assessment of the research taking place across UK universities. REF takes place cyclically, typically every six years.

The framework is used by the four UK higher education funding bodies (Research England, the Scottish Funding Council, the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, and the Department for the Economy, Northern Ireland) to assess the quality of research and to inform the distribution of research funding -  worth currently around £2 billion per year, to UK universities.

The main purpose of REF is to:

  • Act as an assessment for UK research funding allocations
  • Provide accountability for public funding of research and demonstrate the benefits
  • Provide significant benchmarking information on research reputation for universities 

The results for REF 2021 are available on the REF2021 website.

How is the REF assessment carried out?

The REF looks at three areas of assessment, which together reflect the key characteristics of research excellence. For REF2029, the next REF assessment, there are currently some changes being finalised. You can read more about this here REF 2029.

The three key components of REF are:

  1. Contribution to knowledge and understanding (accounting for around 50% of the assessment)
  2. Engagement and Impact  (accounting for 25% of the assessment)
  3. People, Culture and Environment  (accounting for 25% of the assessment)

Each University is required to make an institutional submission to REF which is broken down into 34 disciplinary units, known as Units of Assessment (UoAs). These submissions are assessed by an expert panel of academics and public, private and third-sector experts in each UoA. There are four main panels to reflect the following subject areas:

  • Main Panel A: Medicine, health and life sciences
  • Main Panel B: Physical sciences, engineering and mathematics
  • Main panel C: Social sciences
  • Main Panel D: Arts and humanities

These panels are appointed by the four UK founding bodies, and oversee the assessment, ensuring that the assessment criteria and standards are consistently applied. These panels are supported by the Equality and Diversity Advisory Panel (EDAP) and the Interdisciplinary Research Advisory Panel (IDAP). All universities are also required to submit a code of practice detailing the policies and processes which govern how they will develop their REF submission.


Find out more about Exeter REF 2021.