Research Excellence Framework

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

The REF outcomes are used to inform the allocation of around £2 billion per year of public funding for universities' research.

The REF was first carried out in 2014, replacing the previous Research Assessment Exercise. Research England manages the REF on behalf of all 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.

The funding bodies' shared policy aim for research assessment is to secure the continuation of a world-class, dynamic and responsive research base across the full academic spectrum within UK higher education.

REF objectives

The REF objectives are:

  • 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.
  • To inform the selective allocation of funding for research.

The next REF be undertaken in 2021.

REF consultation and initial decisions

The four UK higher education funding bodies carried out a consultation on the second REF 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 Higher Education Funding Council for England's evaluation of REF. A summary of responses to the consultation (PDF) was published in September 2017.

Responses 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'.

For more information on REF 2021, visit the REF website.

Real-Time REF Review

Research England and the devolved funding bodies have commissioned RAND Europe to assess the attitudes and perspectives of the UK’s higher education research community towards the REF 2021. Data will be collected in ‘real-time’ as institutions prepare to submit to the REF 2021, accounting for the revised submission schedule due to COVID-19. Visit here to find out more.