What is REF?

The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is the UK’s system for assessing the excellence of research in UK higher education institutions.

REF 2021 illustration showing University building and subject areas

The REF outcomes are used to inform the allocation of around £2 billion per year of public funding for universities’ research. Our impact case studies demonstrate the benefits of this investment, highlighting how our research improves society and economic prosperity. The results also affect institutional reputation and inform strategic decisions about national research priorities.

The REF was first carried out in 2014, replacing the previous Research Assessment Exercise. The latest exercise was submitted in 2021, with the results published in May 2022. 

How is the REF carried out? 

The REF is a process of peer review, carried out by expert panels for each of the 34 subject-based units of assessment (UOAs). These panels are made up of senior academics, international members, and professionals from the private, public and charitable sectors with experience of working with research.   

For each submission, three distinct elements are assessed: the quality of outputs (e.g. journal articles, books, designs), the impact of our research beyond academia, and the environment that supports research. These are weighted and then aggregated to form an overall profile.

  • Outputs 60%
  • Impact 25%
  • Environment 15%

The panels use their expertise to grade each item submitted from 4* (outstanding work) through to 1* (with an unclassified grade awarded if the work falls below the standard expected or is deemed not to meet the eligibility rules).