What is REF?

Research Excellence Framework (REF) is a national assessment of the quality of UK higher education research in all disciplines. 

REF's purpose is to maintain the standard of 'world-class, dynamic and responsive research... across the full academic spectrum within UK higher education'

REF is managed by four UK higher education funding bodies: 

Research England
Scottish Funding Council (SFC) 
Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) 
Department for the Economy, Northern Ireland (DfE)


What is the purpose of REF?

The funding bodies’ aim for this research assessment is to maintain the standard of "world-class, dynamic and responsive research... across the full academic spectrum within UK higher education". REF has a threefold purpose:

1.  Accountability for public investment in research and produce evidence of the benefits of this investment.

2.  Benchmarking information and establish reputational yardsticks, for use within the HE sector and for public information.

3.  Inform the selective allocation of funding for research. 

Find out more about REF?


How is research assessed?

There are 34 subject-based Units of Assessment (UOAs). These Units of Assessment are reviewed by expert sub-panels, working under the leadership and guidance of 4 main panels. Expert panels are made up of senior academics, international members, and research users.

Who are the expert panels and what do they do? 

Sub-panels assess 3 elements for each submission - research outputs, impact and environment. These are weighted and then aggregated to form the overall "quality profile" as per below:

3 in a row ref assessment cropped

Important dates

The deadline for REF2021 was 31 March 2021 and the REF panels are currently assessing submissions up to February 2022. Publication of results is expected in April 2022. View the REF 2021 Timeline

What does REF mean for me?

Key questions for academics and researchers


What are the rules for REF 2021?

Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) taking part in REF 2021 must submit all their eligible staff.

Who is eligible for REF 2021?

Eligible staff are those:

  • On teaching-and-research contracts or research-only contracts with a "significant responsibility for research".

  • On a minimum 0.2 full time equivalent (FTE) contract on the payroll of the submitting HEI on 31 July 2020.

  • Research-only staff must also be "independent researchers".

ref jargon

REF definition

Staff with significant responsibility for research = those for whom explicit time and resources are made available to engage actively in independent research, and that is an expectation of their job role.

Independent researchers = staff who undertake self-directed research, rather than carrying out another individual’s research programme.

Units of Assessment (UOAs) = eligible staff are assigned by the submitting HEI to one of 34 disciplinary areas, known as Units of Assessment (UOAs).


Research outputs

How many outputs do I submit?

Each eligible member of staff has to submit 1 - 5 research outputs, which:

1)   They produced or co-produced


 First became publicly available between 1 January 2014 and 31 December 2020.

The total number of outputs per Unit of Assessment is calculated: total full time equivalent (FTE) x 2.5.

Each eligible staff member can submit between 1 and 5 outputs to make up the UOA’s total pool of outputs.

Outputs are assessed in terms of their originality, significance and rigour.

Are your research outputs ready for REF? Check here

Reduced outputs

REF recognises that research is produced at different rates and that an individual's circumstances may have affected their productivity. The total pool of outputs for each Unit of Assessment may be reduced if staff have individual circumstances, which affected their ability to undertake research. For example:

  • Periods of family-related leave.

  • Secondment outside of higher education.

  • Illness or disability.

  • An early career researcher.


REF definition

Early career researcher = a member of staff who meets the definition of eligible staff on 31 July 2020, who started their career as an independent researcher on or after 1 August 2016.

HEIs can submit staff members without any outputs but only in very exceptional circumstances. For example, in circumstances which prevented staff from undertaking research for 46 months or more during 1 January 2014 and 31 December 2020.

Staff who moved HEIs after 1 January 2014

Outputs may be submitted by both the new HEI and the institution where they were employed when the outputs were first made publicly available. 

Eligible staff who leave an HEI, including retired staff, can submit up to 5 outputs. Outputs are required to have been first made publicly available when the institution employed the staff member.


Submitting HEIs may request that outputs of extended scale and scope be double-weighted (counted as two outputs) in the assessment. Institutional requests for double-weighting must be accompanied by a statement of up to 100 words explaining how the scale and scope of the output justifies double-weighting.

Are you REF ready with Open Access?

Academics and researchers

Have your Journal articles and conference contributions with an ISSN been accepted for publication on or after 1 April 2016?

If so, you are subject to Open Access requirements as follows:

a)  Outputs accepted for publication 1 April 2016 - 31 March 2018 » Deposit output after the point of acceptance, and no later than 3 months after the date of publication.

b)  Outputs accepted for publication 1 April 2018 - 31 December 2020 » Deposit output after the point of acceptance, and no later than 3 months after this date.

Follow our 4 quick steps to be REF ready and deposit your outputs 

Learn more about Open Access

Research impact


REF definition

Impact = an effect on, change or benefit to the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life, beyond academia.

Impact includes, but is not limited to, an effect on, change or benefit to:

  • The activity, attitude, awareness, behaviour, capacity, opportunity, performance, policy, practice, process or understanding.

  • An audience, beneficiary, community, constituency, organisation or individuals.

  • Any geographic location whether locally, regionally, nationally or internationally.

Impact case studies

Each subject-based Unit of Assessment (UOA) will require impact case studies describing specific non-academic impacts that occurred during 1 August 2013 to 31 December 2020 that were underpinned by excellent research undertaken within the submitted unit. The underpinning research must have been produced by the submitting HEI during 1 January 2000 to 31 December 2020. 

Impact case studies are assessed in terms of their "reach and significance" regardless of the geographic location in which they occurred - whether locally, regionally, nationally or internationally.

Download impact case studies template

REF impact information for LSE staff

Has my research had an impact?

How do I write an impact case study?

How many impact case studies to submit per UOA  

Research environment

The environment in which research is produced at each higher education institute (HEI) is assessed according to its vitality and sustainability.

LSE will submit information on its institutional strategy and aspects of the environment, such as resources, which demonstrate its ability to support research and enable impact, for the period 1 August 2013 to 31 December 2020.

Learn more about the Research Environment process for LSE staff and information LSE will need to submit


Assessment and results


Each HEI's submission is assessed by sub-panels of academics and research users. Sub-panels use their professional judgement to form the overall quality profile to be awarded to each submission, taking into account all the evidence presented.


Results will be published in April 2022.

The outcome of the assessment is an overall "quality profile" awarded to each submission - as shown below.

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.


Quality that falls below the standard of nationally recognised work. Or work which does not meet the published definition of research for the purposes of this assessment.

Results will show the proportion of research activity in a submission. The overall percentage of "quality profiles" (star ratings) for each institution and each UOA will be calculated - as shown below.*

Unit of Assessment A


FTE Category A submitted staff

Percentage of research activity in the submission judged to meet the standard for:






University X







University Y







* Figures shown above are for fictional universities. They do not indicate expected proportions.

REF 2014


ref 2014 flyer

Check out frequently asked questions about REF submissions and policy

Further guidance