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Research Excellence Framework (REF)

Information about REF and our work towards REF 2021.

REF 2021 Logo

The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is the UK’s system for assessing the quality of research in UK higher education institutions.

How REF assessments are made

For each submission, three distinct elements are assessed:

  • The quality of outputs (for example, publications, performances, and exhibitions)
  • Their impact beyond academia
  • The environment that supports research.

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.

The REF is undertaken on behalf of the Government by the funding councils for higher education. The results are used to allocate around £2 billion each year to university research.

How REF assessments are graded

REF presents the results by subject area and quality is graded as follows:

  • 4* World-leading
  • 3* Internationally excellent
  • 2* Recognised internationally
  • 1* Recognised nationally
  • U Unclassified
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