UCL Research


Research Excellence Framework

The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is the system for assessing the quality of research in UK higher education institutions (HEIs) and replaces the Research Assessment Exercise

It is implemented by Research England, part of UK Research and Innovation. The first REF exercise was run in 2014, and the next one is planned for 2021. 

The main purposes of the REF are:

  • To provide accountability for public investment in research
  • To provide benchmarking information for use within the Higher Education sector and for public information.
  • To inform the selective allocation of quality-related (QR) funding for research

The REF assesses three distinct elements:

  • quality of research outputs
  • impact of research beyond academia
  • the environment that supports research.

The REF is a process of expert review, with discipline-based expert panels assessing
submissions made by HEIs in 34 Units of Assessment (UOAs). Additional measures, including specific advisory panels, have been introduced in REF2021 to support the implementation of equality and diversity, and submission and review of interdisciplinary research, during assessment.

The REF submission comprises three elements: research outputs, research impact and research environment. Sub-panels for each unit of assessment will use their expertise to grade each element of the submission from 4 stars (outstanding work) through to 1 star (with an unclassified grade awarded if the work falls below the standard expected or is deemed not to meet the definition of research). The scores are weighted 60% (outputs), 25% (impact) and 15% (environment).

Submissions for REF2021 closed on 31 March 2021, and the outcomes will be published in May 2022.

Find out more about REF at UCL using the links below: