Researcher information on REF

About REF

The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is the system for assessing the quality of research in UK higher education institutions (HEIs). It replaces the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) and will next report in December 2021. The REF is undertaken by the four UK higher education funding bodies and managed by the REF team based at HEFCE, overseen by the REF Steering Group consisting of representatives of the four funding bodies.

The REF aims to:
• inform the selective allocation of research funding to HEIs
• provide benchmarking information and establish reputational yardsticks
• provide accountability for public investment in research and demonstrate its benefits.

REF2014 covered 6 years, with over two years of intensive preparations. It involved over 50,000 academics across the UK, and will be worth around £2Bn per annum (for at least 5 years from 2015/16) to the Higher Education Sector as a whole in direct funding council grants, awarded according to REF results.

The University of the Highlands participated in its 3rd such exercise and it is fair to say that we have come a long way since the first one. We started with a submission of 17.3 fte staff to 2 Units of Assessment (UoAs, i.e. discipline area aggregations) in the 2001 RAE, and in the REF2014 exercise we submitted 81 colleagues across 6 UoAs.  For REF2021 it could be substantially more as the rules on who is submitted have changed.

View our REF2014 assessment results

All 6642 case studies submitted to REF2014 are now available to search, read and download from a tool provided by HEFCE.

The REF represents the single biggest routine exercise that is conducted in and across UK Higher Education, and it is generally regarded by institutions as being the most important. Through the REF each institution’s claims to research-related excellence and reputation are rigorously assessed by teams of leading academic peer reviewers and external ‘users’ of the institutions’ research products.

Why do Universities Put Themselves through This?  

Prestige and Public Relations
The outputs for the REF are publicly visible and every university wants to be seen as high quality. The REF gives a high profile measurement of one aspect of a university’s quality. This can be used to support student recruitment and staff recruitment. Have a look at university department websites and you will see statements such as “in 2008 60% of our staff were judged internationally leading in their field”. That is a very powerful statement with obvious benefits. REF outputs and ratings will be used in the league tables.
A proportion of University funding is determined from the quality indicators from the REF. In Scotland, this is known as the “Research Excellence Grant (REG)”, which now consists of two agreements known as an Outcome Agreement (core reseearch funding) and University Innovation Funding (UIF), an additional fund rewarding collaborative working. There are far fewer strings attached to its use than virtually every other income source available. Within and across UHI, the RAE related income since the last assessment has been approximately £10million.

Further information regarding this can be found on the REF website

REF Eligibility

REF selection/eligibility Process

For REF2021 there is no 'staff selection' procedure based around eligible outputs as for REF2014. The key change in the guidelines issued by the UK funding bodies this time around is that all staff who have 'significant responsibility for research' must all be included in the REF2021 submission as long as they hold a minimum employment of 0.2 full time equivalent.  In recognition that some staff now brought within scope for submission to REF2021 may have limited responsibility for research (i.e. not a full time research-only contract) the minimum number of outputs required per researcher has been reduced from four to one.

At UHI we have in place Unit of Assessment Leads who are working with local research and department heads to compile a register of staff who meet the REF eligibility guidelines and during 2018 discussions will be held amongst managers, staff and departments to establish this list of eligible staff.  If you have any questions regarding the process please contact your head of department or head of research for clarification of the process at your locality.

We used PURE as our preparation tool during REF2014. It allowed us to move work around the partnerships and Unit of Assessment co-ordinators to refine our selections and to ensure all information relating to the selections was included, once prepared it was then relatively straight forward to upload our submission to the REF system. We will again be using Pure for REF2021 preparations and submission. 

Therefore, it is very important to add all research outputs to your PURE profile as a matter of habit, especially with new regulations surrounding the requirement to make all outputs openly accessible a maximum of 3 months from publisher acceptance of articles. The REF selection and review process, and to some extent the annual research review, rely on key information from PURE. If you are producing research outputs and do not have a PURE account please request a PURE account via the online form.

REF eligibility guidelines

Guidelines for staff, outputs and impact partialy announced 21/11/2017

The funding bodies have announced the main guidelines surrounding staff eligibility and output requirement. These guidelines are not yet complete and we have been told to expect the full staff eligibility guidelines late July 2018. The summary below sets out what we know so far:

Staff eligibility - Every academic with “significant responsibility for research” and who has a contracted FTE of at least 0.2 will be required to submit at least one output to the next REF.  Significant responsibility for research is defined as:
Staff for whom explicit time and resources are made available to engage actively in independent research, and that is an expectation of their job role. Research is defined as a process of investigation leading to new insights, effectively shared. Staff engaged exclusively in scholarship would not be considered to have a significant responsibility for research.

Exceptional circumstances - option for certain staff will be retained for REF2021.

ORCiD - This researcher identifier will not be mandatory for REF2021 (just strongly encouraged) but will be mandatory for REF2027.

Outputs - A minimum of one output is required for each member of staff; a maximum of five outputs may be attributed to individual staff members (including staff who have left, but they will have no minimum requirement). The average number of outputs required overall, per staff FTE, within each UoA submitted will be 2.5.

Portability of outputs - A transitional approach in REF2021 in prep for the non-portability of outputs in REF 2027, whereby outputs in REF2021 may be submitted by both the institution employing the staff member on the census date and the originating institution where the staff member was previously employed.

Deposit of outputs - Outputs are required to be deposited as soon after the point of acceptance as possible, and no later than three months after this date.

Download a 2 page summary - REF initial decisions summary to Jan 2018.pdf


REF2021 News

The current review period for research outputs began 1 January 2014 and information relating to REF2021 will be posted here as it is announced by the funding bodies, newest news at the top.....

REF FAQ's now live on the REF website - 04/12/2017

As happened during the last REF, the FAQ's were added to throughout the process so if you need to know about REF bookmark:

Guidelines for staff, outputs and impact announced - 21/11/2017

The funding bodies have announced the main guidelines surrounding staff eligibility and output requirement, see the summary below with the full 19 page document available as a pdf - REF Decisions on staff and outputs.pdf. They have advised there will be a further announcement late July 2018 giving more detail on the below requirements.

Or download the 2 page summary - REF initial decisions summary to Jan 2018.pdf

Staff eligibility; summary details on the above tab 'REF eligibility guidelines'

Initial decisions for REF2021 published by HEFCE - 1/9/2017 HEFCE published a set of initial guidelines for the current REF period, links below:

Initial decisions circular and summary

Initial decisions report and supporting documents

Summary of the 388 consultation responses

However, HEFCE are still to make final decisions on a number of key points; criteria for staff submission, portability of outputs, institution elligibility for inclusion in the REF.....decisions on these key questions have been delayed until 'the autumn' following additional consultation.

Proposing your outputs for REF2021 - Our whole REF process is being managed using PURE.  This means your outputs and your personal details must be up-to-date within PURE.  You need to propose your best outputs for review by the UHI REF review team.  To do so, see this guide: Proposing your outputs.

Open access - 2/12/2015 All journal articles and conference proceedings with a publishing date after 1 April 2016 must comply with regulations on accessibility with appropriate re-use licences. All authors must be aware of the extra steps required; there is information in the PURE guide or a separate condensed specific document for REF - both available from the PURE INFO web page - or read the REF compliance webpage.

ALL staff to be submitted? - Sept 2015 - It should be noted that the recommendation of the recent Stern report included as its first point that ALL staff associated with research should be returned to REF2021.  This has not yet been confirmed by HEFCE as an adopted policy point but it is considered highly likely that it will be confirmed by mid 2017. The university REF review team will communicate to staff as soon as the UK government finalises the parameters for REF2021.

IMPACT and how it affects research reporting, measurement and outcomes is a hot topic at the moment. Everyone knows 'Impact' is going to be used as an increasingly important metric but it is not yet clear exactly what will be required either from funding bodies or for the next REF process. The document below is an amalgamation of a few documents released by RCUK on the subject and should give some indication of where we stand as of Aug 2014:   RCUK Impact guidelines

All 6642 case studies submitted to REF2014 are now available to search, read and download from a tool provided by HEFCE.

Publishing dates - Sept 2015 - Every researcher needs to ensure they publish as much of our candidate REF outputs sooner rather than later. Depending upon when the next REF census date is (probably 30 November 2020), a 12 month review time, followed by a 24 month embargo period might mean that free green publishing would require the document to be submitted before the end of 2016. In some fields, a 12 month review period is optimistic, especially if revision is required followed be re-review! As a result, from 2016 we will need to progressively consider publishing through Gold Open access, the costs might become prohibitive and pose a real threat to our research development, but publishing early will ensure the gold route is not required.

Open access - May 2015 - Following an extensive consultation exercise, SFC and the other three UK funding bodies have published details of a new policy for open access relating to future research assessments after the current Research Excellence Framework (REF). The policy describes new eligibility requirements for outputs submitted to the post-2014 REF and can be viewed and downloaded from HEFCE’s website