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Research Excellence Framework

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The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is the UK’s system for assessing the excellence of research in UK higher education institutions (HEIs).  The last exercise was held in 2021 and the next will take place in 2029.

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

The purpose of REF is:

  • 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 within the Higher Education sector and for public information.
  • To inform the selective allocation of funding for research.

In Scotland the results of REF inform allocation of the Research Excellence Grant (REG).

REF 2029

Overview

The four funding bodies are currently developing the REF 2029 exercise in close consultation with the sector.

Further information is available on the REF website or by emailing ref2029@sfc.ac.uk.

Latest news

Update on the development of approaches to the assessment of People, Culture and Environment in REF 2029, published on 25 January 2024.

Initial decisions next steps December 2023 – REF 2029 were published on 7 December 2023.

Initial decisions and issues for further consultation were published in June 2023, with consultation responses invited by 6 October 2023.

A further consultation on the assessment of people, culture and environment in REF 2028 closed on 1 December 2023.

Future Research Assessment Programme

The Future Research Assessment Programme (FRAP) was initiated at the request of UK and devolved government ministers and funding bodies. This significant piece of work, launched in May 2021, was led by the four funding bodies and aimed to explore possible approaches to the assessment of UK higher education research performance following REF 2021.

Through dialogue with the higher education sector, the Programme sought to understand what a healthy, thriving research system looks like and the role that a national assessment model can have as its foundation. The work strands included evaluation of REF 2021, understanding international research assessment practice, and investigating possible evaluation models and approaches. The Programme aimed to identify evaluation approaches that can encourage and strengthen the emphasis on delivering excellent research and impact, and support a positive research culture, while simplifying and reducing the administrative burden on the HE sector.

An international advisory group was established to guide the funding bodies in their evaluation and consultation activities.

The results of the Future Research Assessment Programme inform the development of REF 2029.

REF 2021

Overview

The last research excellence framework was carried out in 2021. REF 2021 built on the REF exercise carried out in 2014, taking into account the recommendations of an independent review into that assessment process.

The results of REF 2021 were published on 12 May 2022.

The funding bodies commissioned a thorough programme of evaluation of REF 2021. This included a review of the exercise’s costs and benefits, analysis of impact case studies (an element of the REF submission which aims to demonstrate the impact of university research beyond academia), and analysis of research outputs submitted to the REF.

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SFC Strategic Plan 2022-27

Building a connected, agile, sustainable tertiary education and research system for Scotland.

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