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Assessing research

2021 Research Excellence Framework

The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is the UK-wide system for assessing research in higher education institutions. It is conducted jointly by all four UK higher education funding bodies, and is managed on their behalf by the REF Team, based at Research England.

Panels of experts in individual academic subject areas assess institutions’ research submissions under three broad headings:

  • Research outputs – the quality of research publications and other forms of research output
  • Impact – the benefits delivered to the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life
  • Research environment – the vitality and sustainability of the research environment, including the contribution to the wider discipline or research base.

Further information about arrangements for the 2021 REF is available on the REF website.

Open Access publishing

Open access is central to UK Research and Innovation’s ambitions for research and innovation in the UK. The UK Higher Education funding bodies, including HEFCW, are committed to supporting successful approaches to open access publishing through the Research Excellence Framework. It is a requirement that certain research outputs submitted to any research assessment exercise after 2014 be made as widely accessible as possible.

The REF 2021 open access policy is included in the following sections of the Guidance on submissions document.

a. Paragraphs 105 – 114 REF2021 Open Access policy intent

b. Paragraphs 223 – 255 REF2021 Open Access policy guidance

REF 2021 OA FAQs are published on the REF website under the section Open Access.

UK Research and Innovation is currently conducting a review of open access policies across the councils. The REF is jointly governed by the four UK Funding Bodies, and although the future REF open access policy is within scope of the UKRI open access review, and the two reviews will work closely together, the UK funding bodies will make final decisions on the future policy for REF.

2014 Research Excellence Framework

The first REF ran in 2014. The outcomes were published in December 2014. Further information is available on the REF website.

Research Assessment Exercise

Research was previously assessed through the UK-wide Research Assessment Exercise (RAE). The last RAE was undertaken in 2008. The outcomes of the 2008 RAE, and further information about the exercise, are available on the RAE 2008 website. Circular W09/07HE provides an analysis of the outcomes for Wales.

Information on earlier RAEs, held in 2001, 1996 and 1992, is available in the RAE website.

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