Research Excellence Framework (REF)

REF overview

REF 2021 logo

For more information on REF 2021 visit the website at

The key purposes of the REF are:

  • to inform the selective allocation of funding for research
  • to provide accountability for public investment in research and produce evidence of the benefits of this investment
  • to provide benchmarking information and establish reputational yardsticks, for use in the higher education sector and for public information.

This major exercise is undertaken by the four UK higher education funding bodies; Research England (prior to 1 April 2018 the funding body for England was the Higher Education Funding Council for England); the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales; the Scottish Funding Council; and the Department for the Economy in Northern Ireland.

The REF was first conducted in 2014  replacing the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE).

The next exercise will take place in 2021. The development of the next exercise is now well underway, following consultation on the implementation of the next REF in early 2017.

Research Excellence Framework (REF) Initial Decisions

REF 2021 logo

For more information on REF 2021 visit the website at

The four UK higher education funding bodies carried out a consultation on the second Research Excellence Framework in early 2017.

This process sought views on the proposed approach to implementing the recommendations of Lord Stern’s independent review of the exercise along with a number of detailed points informed by the former HEFCE’s evaluation of REF. A summary of responses to the consultation was published in September 2017.

Reponses to the consultation, along with the evaluation of REF 2014 and further consultation on staff and outputs , informed the high-level decisions on REF 2021, as set out in ‘Initial decisions on the second REF’ and ‘Decisions on staff and outputs’.

REF consultation

The consultation set out proposals on how to implement the next Research Excellence Framework, building on the REF 2014 and incorporating the principles identified in Lord Stern’s Independent Review of the REF.

It included proposals intended to reduce the burden associated with the REF process while maintaining and improving incentives for research excellence.

These include recommendations relating to:

  • the submission of staff and outputs
  • the approach to the assessment of impact
  • the introduction of an institutional level assessment.


We received 388 formal responses to the consultation. All responses were read, recorded and analysed. Read a summary of the responses (REF 2017/02), outlining the key issues raised.

Responses to the REF consultation informed the initial decisions taken on several high-level aspects of the framework (REF 2017/01).

We are undertook further engagement before finalising arrangements in some areas, including:

Further decisions (REF 2017/04) were published in November 2017.

A number of events and webinars were held during the consultation, further information can be found here.

The Evaluation of REF 2014

To prepare for the development of the next Research Excellence Framework (REF), the former HEFCE undertook a robust and, where appropriate, independent evaluation of the 2014 exercise. In partnership with the other UK HE funding bodies, the former HEFCE ran a number of projects that together provided a comprehensive evaluation of REF 2014.

This programme of work included an evaluation of impact, an assessment of the cost of the exercise, evaluation of interdisciplinarity within the exercise and sector feedback.

Full detail of the projects can be found at the National Archives.