The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is the system for assessing the quality of research in UK higher education institutions.
The assessment measures the quality of outputs (including publications, performances, and exhibitions), their impact beyond academia, and the environment that supports research.
The outcome of the REF informs the allocation of quality-research (QR) related funding. It contributes to the accountability for public funding and demonstrates the benefits of public investment in research and impact.
Due to COVID 19 the results announcements were delayed, which is why the exercise is badged as REF 2021.
Each University was required to make an institutional submission to REF which is broken down into 34 disciplinary units, known as units of assessment.
Profiles were produced for three key areas – output, impact and environment – as well as an overall quality profile. The weightings for the three areas are:
- outputs (60%) looking at originality, significance and rigour
- impact (25%) looking at reach and significance
- research environment (15%) looking at vitality and sustainability.
These areas together make up the overall quality profile. The research excellence of the submission was assessed by an expert panel and the quality of each output was graded from 4* to unclassified.
4* Quality that is world-leading in terms of originality, significance and rigour.
3* Quality that is internationally excellent in terms of originality, significance and rigour but which falls short of the highest standards of excellence.
2* Quality that is recognised internationally in terms of originality, significance and rigour.
1* Quality that is recognised nationally in terms of originality, significance and rigour.
Unclassified: Quality that is below the standard of nationally recognised; or work that is not eligible for the REF
Grade point average (GPA) is a way of simplifying the Unit of Assessment profile for outputs, impacts, environment or the overall quality to a single number. It does not take account of the number of staff submitted. It is calculated by multiplying the percentage in each grade by its rating (4*, 3* etc.), adding them all together and dividing by 100. This results in a figure between 0 and 4. These calculations are not provided by REF, and have been calculated within the University of Leeds for the summary profiles.
A major review of REF took place in 2015 and this resulted in a number of changes to the methodology for submitting and assessing REF 2021. Because of this, it is difficult to draw comparisons to the REF 2014 results.
More information is available on the REF website.