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. Informing the allocation of block-grant research funding to HEIs based on research quality.

2. Providing accountability for public investment in research and produce evidence of the benefits of this investment.

3. Providing insights into the health of research in HEIs in the UK.

Find out more about REF?

Why is submitting to the REF important?

1. The REF results determine how money from the major UK government budget is distributed across HEIs in the UK. (Following REF2021, LSE receives £12.5 million per year).

2. It boosts public recognition of the quality and relevance of HEI research.

3. Because not submitting precludes the School from making applications to UKRI funding streams.

4. Results from the REF are used to inform major league tables, which have a significant effect on student and staff recruitment.

How is research assessed?

The funding bodies have confirmed that the REF2029 Unit of Assessment (UOA) structure will be the same as that for REF2021. These Units of Assessment will be 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 will assess 3 elements for each submission - formerly named ‘outputs’, ‘impact’ and ‘environment’ in REF2021 but now:

1. Contribution to Knowledge and Understanding (CKU) is 50% of the submission. Crucially 10% of that will be a disciplinary level evidence statement and the rest outputs, so outputs are now only 45%. 

2. Engagement and Impact (E&I) remains at 25%. The impact case studies (ICSs) no longer need to be linked to 2* outputs, can be linked to any output and will count 50-80% of the score, while yet another disciplinary level statement will count 20-50%. 

3. People, Culture and Environment (PCE) will now count for 25% and will require both institutional-level (IL) and disciplinary-level (DL) evidence statements and indicators. 



Important dates

The deadline for REF2029 submissions is anticipated to be November 2028 (TBC) followed by the assessment phase in 2029.

View the Development timetable for REF2029


What are the rules for REF2029?

Who is eligible for REF2029?

In REF2029, institutions will not submit staff to the assessment exercise. Instead, the funding bodies will use an average full-time equivalent (FTE) over multiple years to calculate the volume measure. This means that the number of outputs and impact case studies required will not be directly linked to individual staff employed on a specific census date.

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).

Contribution to Knowledge and Understanding

This element will make up 50% of the score and comprises the following:

1. The assessment of a very wide range of output types that are consistent with discipline-specific approaches to scholarly communication. These may include, but not limited to, practice research outputs, audio and video content, scholarly editions, software, datasets, and artefacts.

2. A structured explanatory statement to present an evidence-based description of the institution’s wider contribution to knowledge and understanding in the disciplinary area.The statement should also explain how the outputs submitted are representative of the research and researchers in the disciplinary area within the HEI. Aspects of this statement will draw on elements previously captured in the environment element.

The statement will also enable HEIs to showcase the wide variety of research undertaken, including those outputs that may have been judged to be ‘risky’ to submit, such as policy reports or patents. 

The framework for the content of the statement is yet to be confirmed. However, any data requirements for the statement will be based on existing data collections as far as possible.

Who can submit outputs?

Outputs may be submitted from any staff member, including non academic staff, where a substantive connection to the institution can be demonstrated. Sole-authored outputs by PhD students, including PhD theses, will not be eligible for submission.

Outputs produced by anyone employed by the institution on a minimum 0.2 FTE contract for at least 6 months in the REF assessment period may be submitted, allowing staff to move between institutions and sectors with no detriment to their careers.

How many outputs do I submit?

There will also be no minimum or maximum output requirements for individual staff members, removing any disincentive for institutions to hire individuals without a substantial track-record of outputs considered suitable for REF submission, such as early career researchers or those joining from outside of academia, for example from industry or the public sector.

Reduced outputs

REF recognises that research is produced at different rates and that an individual's circumstances may have affected their productivity. REF2029 will include consideration of the impact of equality-related circumstances within an overall process for determining potential reductions in output requirements at the unit level. The process will not be based on the aggregation of individual equality-related circumstances.

Are you REF ready with Open Access?

The scope of an open access policy for REF2029 is expected to be much broader than the UKRI Open Access Policy. The funding bodies will consult with the sector before developing the full REF2029 open access policy. The consultation on REF2029 open access requirements was launched in January 2024.

In the meantime, institutions should continue to follow REF2021 open access policies, as described below:

Outputs accepted for publication after 31 December 2020 should be deposited in an open access repository no later than three months after the date of acceptance.

 Learn more about Open Access.

Engagement and Impact

In REF2029, the ‘impact’ element will be expanded to Engagement and Impact. The assessment of impact case studies will be supplemented by a structured explanatory statement, focused on outcomes and supported by evidence and data, which sets out the wider contribution of research activities to society and the economy. 

The explanatory statement will carry a minimum weighting of 20% of the quality sub-profile for Engagement and Impact. The funding bodies intend to weight the statement on a sliding scale, proportionate to the number of case studies submitted, to ensure that its contribution to the sub-profile is no less than that of a single impact case study.

Impact case studies

Each subject-based Unit of Assessment (UOA) will require impact case studies describing specific non-academic impacts that were underpinned by excellent research undertaken within the submitted unit.

The dates of when the impacts occured and when the underpinning research is undertaken have yet to be confirmed. The number of case studies required in each submission will be determined by the average FTE of volume-contributing staff in the unit.

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.

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


People, Culture and Environment

People, Culture and Environment will contribute 25% to the overall quality profile. This element will be evidenced by a tightly defined, questionnaire-style template that will focus on demonstrable outcomes at both institution-level (IL) and at the level of disciplinary (DL) submissions, as appropriate.

Next steps for the development of the People, Culture and Environment element of REF2029

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 December 2029.

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.

Check out frequently asked questions about REF submissions and policy