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Research Excellence Framework

The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is the UK-wide system for assessing the quality of the research carried out in the UK's publicly-funded universities.


SFC, Research England, the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales and the Department for the Economy (Northern Ireland) conduct the REF jointly. 

How the REF results are used

We use results of the REF to:

  • Inform the selective allocation of research funding to HEIs.
  • Provide Benchmarking information and establish the reputation of institutions in research.
  • Provide accountability for public investment in research and demonstrate its benefits.

REF 2021

The 2021 Research Excellence Framework (REF 2021) builds on the exercise carried out in 2014 and the recommendations of the independent review of REF 2014.

The UK’s four higher education (HE) funding bodies have published the key documents that provide guidance to UK universities when submitting their research to the next Research Excellence Framework, REF 2021.

REF 2021: Process for reviewing Codes of Practice

Process for reviewing Codes of Practice [PDF]

REF assessment

Panels of experts in individual academic subject areas carry out the REF assessment under three broad headings.

  • Outputs: the main focus of the REF is to identify excellent research of all kinds. This is assessed through expert review. In subjects where robust data is available, expert review may be informed by additional citation information.
  • Impact: recognition is given where researchers build on excellent research to deliver demonstrable benefits to society, public policy, culture, quality of life and the economy.
  • Environment: the REF takes account of the quality of the research environment in supporting a continuing flow of excellent research and its effective dissemination and application.

The three elements of the assessment are scored and combined to produce an overall quality profile for each submission.

Review of the Research Excellence Framework

Following a review commissioned by the UK Government, recommendations on the structure of future REFs were published in 2016. 

Read the Research Excellence Framework review and our statement in response to this. 

Open access in the Research Excellence Framework: Extension of flexibility

The four UK higher education funding bodies decided to extend the initial flexibility in the Open Access policy, recognising the timetable for the next REF with results in 2021.

Full details at SFC/AN/16/2016: Open access in the Research Excellence Framework: Extension of flexibility.

REF 2014

Universities from across the UK submitted information on the research carried out in their universities in 2013 and expert panels carried out their assessment in 2014.

The results of the REF 2014 are available on the REF website.

Further information

See the REF website for further information, including a regularly updated FAQ section. For queries on SFC's policies on research assessment, contact Dr Stuart Fancey, email: