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Research Excellence Framework

Research Excellence Framework 2028: initial decisions and issues for further consultation

The next REF will conclude in 2028 and will assess research and impact between 2021 and 2027.

The REF is the UK’s system for assessing the excellence of research in UK higher education providers.

The exercise drives research excellence across the UK, provides accountability for public investment in research, and informs the allocation of around £2 billion of block-grant research funding each year.

SFC and the other UK funding bodies are seeking to change the emphasis of national assessment from the performance of individuals to the contribution institutions and disciplines make to healthy, dynamic and inclusive research environments. They would also like the assessment to encompass broader contributions to research and the research process.

Redesigning the UK’s national research assessment exercise offers an opportunity to reshape the incentives within the research system and rethink what should be recognised and rewarded.

Changes for REF 2028 include an expansion of the definition of research excellence to ensure appropriate recognition is given to the people, culture and environments that underpin a vibrant and sustainable UK research system.

Building on changes made in the previous exercise, REF 2028 will be a more inclusive research assessment exercise, capturing the valuable contributions of a wider range of research and research-enabling staff.

REF 2028 will take a new approach to determining research volume, moving fully away from any assessment of individuals. Research volume will be determined from average staff numbers over multiple years. There will not be any minimum or maximum contributions of any individuals. In REF 2028 the work of all researchers and research-enabling staff will be eligible for submission. These changes are intended to increase the inclusivity of the assessment and provide an environment that is supportive of researchers who move into academia from other sectors.

The Future Research Assessment Board also sought advice from an International Advisory Group, which provided insights into how research assessment is carried out in other countries. These are summarised in the FRAP International Advisory Group Report. The funding bodies welcome the report’s recommendations and thank the group for its valuable contribution to the programme.

Karen Watt, Chief Executive of the Scottish Funding Council, said:

“The assessment of research at universities across the UK is vital both to our understanding of the benefits it delivers and to decisions on future funding.

“The decisions published today, based on two years of examination and consultation, mean we can take a broader view of the activities and people that deliver research, in all areas, while also making sure that our assessment stays in line with international practice, remains relevant to those who make decisions about research in the UK, and – most importantly – remains fair to the staff who conduct and support the research and to universities.”