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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.

REF 2021


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

REF 2028

REF 2028: initial decisions and issues for further consultation announces initial decisions on the high-level design of the next Research Excellence Framework (REF) and issues for further consultation

REF 2021

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

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

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 assessment

Panels of experts in individual academic subject areas carried out the REF 2021 assessment under three broad headings.

  • Outputs: an underpinning principle of the REF is that all forms of research output will be assessed on a fair and equal basis, from books and journal articles, to software, exhibitions and compositions.
  • 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 were scored and combined to produce an overall quality profile for each submission.

Future Research Assessment Programme

The Future Research Assessment Programme has been initiated at the request of UK and devolved government ministers and funding bodies. This significant piece of work will be led by the four UK higher education funding bodies (Scottish Funding Council, Research EnglandHigher Education Funding Council for Wales and Department for the Economy, NI) and aims to explore possible approaches to the assessment of UK higher education research performance.

Through dialogue with the higher education sector, the programme seeks to understand what a healthy, thriving research system looks like and how an assessment model can best form its foundation. The work strands include evaluation of the REF 2021, understanding international research assessment practice, as well as investigating possible evaluation models and approaches, looking to identify those 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.

This programme of work is expected to conclude by late 2022.

International Advisory Group

An Internal Advisory group has been set up to advise the funding bodies in their evaluation and consultation activities. See the group's draft Terms of Reference. Its members are:

  • Sir Peter Gluckman (Chair), President-elect, International Science Council.
  • Dr Lidia Borrell-Damián, Secretary General, Science Europe.
  • Dr Chonnettia Jones, Vice President, Research, Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research.
  • Professor Erika Kraemer-Mbula Professor, College of Business and Economics, University of Johannesburg.
  • Professor Jane Ohlmeyer, Erasmus Smyth Professor of Modern History, Trinity College Dublin and Chair, Irish Research Council.
  • Dr David Phipps, Assistant VP Research Strategy & Impact, York University and Director of Research Impact Canada.
  • Dr Kirsty Salmon, VP advanced bio & physical sciences for low carbon energy, BP.
  • Professor Sue Thomas, Chief Executive Officer, Australian Research Council.

Programme Board

A Programme Board made up of senior representatives from the four funding bodies will have oversight over this bold and ambitious programme. See the Programme’s Terms of Reference.

Further information

See the REF website for further information on REF 2021, including a regularly updated FAQ section. For queries on SFC's policies on research assessment, contact Morag Campbell, email: