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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.

York St John University and REF definition of research

Research is defined as a process of investigation leading to new insights, effectively shared.

It includes work of direct relevance to the needs of commerce, industry, culture, society, and to the public and voluntary sectors; scholarship; the invention and generation of ideas, images, performances, artefacts including design, where these lead to new or substantially improved insights; and the use of existing knowledge in experimental development to produce new or substantially improved materials, devices, products and processes, including design and construction. It excludes routine testing and routine analysis of materials, components and processes such as for the maintenance of national standards, as distinct from the development of new analytical techniques. It also excludes the development of teaching materials that do not embody original research.

It includes research that is published, disseminated or made publicly available in the form of assessable research outputs, and confidential reports.

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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