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What is the REF?

The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is the system for assessing the quality of research in UK universities and higher education colleges.

The REF was first carried out in 2014, replacing the previous Research Assessment Exercises. The REF is undertaken by the four UK higher education funding bodies: Research England, the Scottish Funding Council (SFC), the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW), and the Department for the Economy, Northern Ireland (DfE).

What is the REF's purpose?

  • to inform the selective allocation of funding for research
  • 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 in the higher education sector and for public information.

How is the REF carried out? 

The REF is a process of expert review, carried out by expert panels for each of the 34 subject-based units of assessment (UOAs), under the guidance of four main panels. Expert panels are made up of senior academics, international members, and research users

What is assessed?

Three main elements are assessed:

1) Outputs

This makes up 60% of the assessment (a decrease from 65% in 2014) and consists of outputs produced by the University during the assessment period (1st January 2014 to 31st December 2020).

Further information

2) Impact

This makes up 25% of the assessment (an increase from 20% in 2014) and consists of case studies detailing the benefits from our research. We need roughly one case study for every ten members of staff and importantly the impact stays with the institution where the research was carried out, i.e. it doesn’t move with the member of staff.

Further information

3) Environment

This makes up the remaining 15% of the assessment and describes the environment we have to support our research. This includes research strategy, staff development and support for PGRs, collaboration both inside and outside academia and equality and diversity. It also includes data on research income and post-graduate degrees awarded.

Further information

What does a REF submission look like?

A REF Submission will contain a common set of data for each UOA comprising:

a) Information on all staff in post with significant responsibility for research on the census date, 31 July 2020; and information about former staff to whom submitted outputs are attributed.

b) Details of assessable outputs produced in the submitted unit during the publication period (1 January 2014 to 31 December 2020).

c) Case studies describing specific examples of impacts achieved during the assessment period (1 August 2013 to 31 July 2020), underpinned by research in the period 1 January 2000 to 31 December 2020.

d) Data about research doctoral degrees awarded, research income and income-in-kind related to the period 1 August 2013 to 31 July 2020.

e) a completed template describing the submitted unit’s research and impact environment, related to the period 1 August 2013 to 31 July 2020.

We also have to provide an institutional environment template

How is REF related to QR?

The grades that we receive for each of these elements contributes to an overall grade point average (GPA). We are given a GPA for each UoA and for the University as a whole. These GPAs are then used for calculating the amount of QR funding the University receives and by a number of league tables.

What are the changes since 2014?

The major review of the REF, carried out in 2015 by Lord Stern, has resulted in a number of changes to the exercise to be carried out in 2021. The significant changes include:

  • REF2021 will not be a selective exercise as REF2014 was; we will be required to include all staff who have a significant responsibility for research
  • we will submit a pool of outputs produced at Wolverhampton during the REF period, rather than (normally) four papers per person as in 2014. This will need to include one paper from every person in post on the census date (31/07/2020) but can also include outputs from staff who have left the University.
  • there will be a broader definition of impact to emphasise public engagement and to include impact on teaching

More information can be found by browsing the Research England dedicated REF web site.

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