How REF is measured

The research that is submitted to REF is measured in three dimensions, each of which carries a different weighting that contributes to the overall quality assessment:

  • Outputs (60% weighting): It is an important principle of public-funded research that the findings should be available to everyone to examine and use, so the sharing of the outputs from research is therefore an essential part of academic life. REF assesses the quality of publicly available outputs from research by academic peer review. In many disciplines, outputs are commonly text-based, including academic journal articles, authored and edited books, book chapters, monographs, etc. Non-text output types, including compositions, performances, designs, exhibitions, creative works, etc are common in creative disciplines. Research outputs are assessed in terms of originality, significance, and rigour.
  • Impact case studies (25% weighting): Assessment of impact was introduced first for REF2014, to quantify the public benefit of the application of excellent research. For the purposes of the REF, impact is defined as ‘an effect on, change or benefit to the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life, beyond academia.’ [REF2019/01] Impact can occur locally, regionally, nationally, or internationally. Impact includes both positive changes and the reduction of negative effects. For REF, impact is assessed from case studies which document the underpinning research and the impact resulting from application and use of that research. Impact is assessed in terms of significance and reach. 
  • Research environment (15% weighting): Research environment assesses how effectively research is supported at both whole-institution level. The university’s strategy and resources that support research, the development of researchers and enabling of impact, is assessed by a combination of narrative on university commitments, policies, and investment, and from the number of research doctoral degrees awarded and research income secured. It is both backward looking, narrating progress made since REF2014, and forward looking, identifying the university’s research strategy for the next five years. Research environment is assessed in terms of vitality and sustainability.

REF ratings

REF2021 uses a five-point scale to assess research excellence, from four-star (the highest) to one-star (the lowest), with and an Unclassified grade (0 star) for activity that does not meet the definition of research for REF purposes.

  • Four-star: Quality that is world-leading in terms of originality, significance, and rigour.
  • Three-star: Quality that is internationally excellent in terms of originality, significance, and rigour but which falls short of the highest standards of excellence.
  • Two-star: Quality that is recognised internationally in terms of originality, significance, and rigour.
  • One-star: Quality that is recognised nationally in terms of originality, significance, and rigour.

REF rewards research excellence by allocating quality related (QR) funding to universities, based on their performance in each submitted Unit of Assessment. Only the percentage of research judged of four-star or three-star quality in each sub-profile is rewarded when calculating the amount of funding to be allocated per submitted staff member.

Although REF specifically rewards four-star and three-star research, we recognise that all research has potential value and that internationally and nationally recognised research delivers considerable value to the university and to our stakeholders. The results of REF help us confirm that a growing number of our academic staff are delivering research judged to be of world-leading or internationally excellent quality in their cognate subject areas, and we have made a long-term institutional commitment to grow our research and make further progress.