Value of the REF

Mainstream quality-related research (QR) funding accounts for £1 billion of Research England's research grant. The funding allocation to Sheffield for 2018/19 was £29 million. They aim to target funding where research quality is highest, distributing funding on the basis of quality, volume and relative cost of research in different subject areas.

Mainstream QR funding is first separated into three 'pots' according to the contribution that the three elements of research assessed in the REF make to overall quality profiles (65 per cent for outputs, 20 per cent for impact and 15 per cent for environment). These pots are then further divided by subject, and finally distributed to institutions. The distribution between subjects and institutions are informed by:

  • The volume of research (based on numbers of submitted research-active staff).
  • The subject cost weights (reflecting, for example, the fact that laboratory-based research is more expensive than library-based research):
    • A - High-cost laboratory and clinical subjects = 1.6
    • B - Intermediate-cost subjects = 1.3
    • C - Others = 1.0
  • The quality of research as measured in the REF: the funding allocation is based on the volume of activity assessed as 4* and 3* at a ratio of 4:1.

They also adjust the mainstream quality-related grant allocated for research in geography and psychology. This recognises that around half of the research activity in these disciplines is similar to work in science disciplines, rather than in the other social sciences.

Modelling REF 2021

The proportion of 4* outputs and impact will be crucial to the outcome in terms of reputation and the level of QR funding received. The table below estimates the indicative value of 3* and 4* items for each of the main panels. This is not an exact science and assumes that the funding amount and mechanism remain consistent.

Average QR income attached to 4* and 3* outputs:

Main Panel Average annual value of an individual output Total average QR for an individual output over a 7-year funding period
3* 4* 3* 4*
A (Medicine, Dentistry, Health, Psychology, Biological Sciences) £3,400 £13,800 £23,800 £96,600
B (Engineering and Physical Sciences) £4,300 £17,100 £30,100 £119,700
C (Social Sciences and Archaeology) £2,700 £10,900 £18,900 £76,300
D (Arts and Humanities, Journalism, iSchool) £2,500 £9,900 £17,500 £69,300

Average QR income attached to 4* and 3* impact case studies:

Main Panel Average annual value of an individual impact case study Total average QR for an individual impact case study over a 7-year funding period
3* 4* 3* 4*
A (Medicine, Dentistry, Health, Psychology, Biological Sciences) £19,300 £77,400 £135,100 £541,800
B (Engineering and Physical Sciences) £23,000 £92,100 £161,000 £644,700
C (Social Sciences and Archaeology) £15,900 £63,700 £111,300 £445,900
D (Arts and Humanities, Journalism, iSchool) £10,700 £42,800 £74,900 £299,600