Research assessment

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 – HEFCW, Research England, Scottish Funding Council, and Department for the Economy, Northern Ireland – and is managed on our 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 (URKI) ambitions for research and innovation in the UK. The UK’s 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 are made as widely accessible as possible.

REF 2021 open access frequently asked questions are available on the REF website.

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.

The future research assessment programme

The four UK higher education funding bodies have now launched the Future Research Assessment Programme.

The programme will investigate possible different approaches to the evaluation of UK higher education research performance.  Through dialogue with the higher education sector, the programme will seek to understand what a healthy, thriving research system looks like and how an assessment model can best form its foundation.