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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 likely 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 will:
• 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 has been five years in the making, 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.

We are pleased with our REF2014 assessment - click this link to view them.

The University of the Highlands is participating 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.

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 REFare publically 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)”. 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.  HEFCE have released the assessment framework and guidance on submissions.

REF Selection Process

REF Selection Process

We are now in the process of preparation for the next exercise, which it is likely submissions will be required by 30 November 2020. Researchers should aim to get their work published in what they believe to be the best journals possible - discuss with your discipline colleagues to find what these are. There is only one primary conclusion: Publish the best outputs that you can! To support this, you should be looking all the time for appropriate external funding and making sure your PhD students are supported and complete on time.

As set out in the assessment framework and guidance on submissions document, each HEI making a submission to REF is required to develop, document and apply a code of practice on selecting staff to include in their REF submissions. For reference, this document for UHI can be found here - declaration of individual circumstances 2014. However, it should be noted that the recommendation of the recent Stern report included as its first point that ALL research active staff should be returned to the REF.  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.

UHI statement on staff inclusion/exclusion in the 2014 REF (word document), again for reference only, as clearly it is likely there could be some changes for REF2021

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, so the intention is to do the same again for REF2021.  This highlights the importance of adding all research outputs to your PURE profile as a matter of habit as the REF selection 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.


Yes, we are already in the next review period and information relating to REF2021 will be posted here.

It is expected the information on this page will be updated frequently as decisions are made by the bodies involved in forming policy for the REF exercise. Check below to see how the story unfolds.....

Information on new Open Access and licence considerations and what they mean for all authors can be found either within the PURE guide or a separate condensed specific document for REF - see the PURE INFO web page.

ALL staff to be submitted? - It should be noted that the recommendation of the recent Stern report included as its first point that ALL research active staff should be returned to the REF.  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

Publishing dates - 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 - 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