Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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The University of Strathclyde completed its submission to the Research Excellence Framework (REF2014) on 26th November 2013. At a university reception, the Principal and the Associate Deputy Principal for Research and Knowledge Exchange gave their thanks and acknowledged the contributions of all those involved in the REF submission.

The REF panels have been meeting through 2014 to assess the quality of outputs, impact and the research environment of each Unit of Assessment (UoA). Results will be presented in the form of quality profiles for each UoA, which present the proportions, rounded to one per cent, of research activity judged to have met each of the quality levels from 4* to unclassified. Overall quality profiles, and separate sub-profiles for outputs, impact and environment will all be published on 18th December.

On this date the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) will also release data on the full-time equivalent number of 'REF eligible' staff per UoA across the UK. This data can then be used to estimate submission rates for each UoA.

The Scottish Funding Council currently distributes the annual Research Excellence Grant on the basis of RAE2008 results, but will use the REF results from 2015 onwards.

Research Funding and the REF

A succession of research assessments since 1986 have determined the level of government funding for research in UK Higher Education through one element of the dual support system. An annual block grant supports research infrastructure and allows universities to undertake research of their choosing. This funding is allocated selectively on the basis of quality, the assessment process being carried out by the Higher Education Council for England (HEFCE) on behalf of funding bodies in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.

The other aspect of the dual support system is funding through Research Councils UK. The seven Research Councils receive money from the government's Science Budget, administered through the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, to provide support for specific projects and programmes. This funding is awarded on the basis of individual applications, which are peer reviewed.

The block funding for research from the Scottish Funding Council (Research Excellence Grant) is currently determined by a measure involving a weighting for Volume (number of staff submitted to RAE, number of research students, research assistants, and amount of research income) and Quality (based on RAE performance profiles for each UoA). From 2012 -13 the quality rating is even more highly skewed towards funding for 3* and 4* research, with no funding for research assessed in RAE2008 as 2* or 1* quality.

University research funding until 2015 will be determined to a large extent by the results of RAE2008. After that date it is intended that the results of REF will be used to inform government research funding. 

REF Timetable
  • University of Strathclyde submission to REF2014 was made in November 2013
  • During 2014 the REF Panels assess submissions, and produce quality profiles for each UoA
  • HEFCE will audit all aspects of the submission in from January 2014 onwards. All HEFCE audit enquiries will be processed by the Strathclyde REF team
  • UK REF results released on 18th December 2014 including the sub-profiles for outputs, impact and enviroment
  • HEFCE will also publish comparative data on 18th December 2014. This will comprise, for each UOA, the average profiles for all submissions to the UOA (mean average, weighted for staff volume); and the minimum, lower quartile, median, upper quartile and maximum percentage for each quality level from 4* to unclassified.
  • The Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) will publish contextual data for the REF on 18th December 2014
  • Subject panel overview reports will be published in Spring 2014
  • In early 2015, HEFCE will publish the submissions on the REF website. For each submission they will publish: a separate list of staff and outputs; the submitted case studies and impact template; and the submitted environment data and template. They will remove personal and contractual details of staff, and any other data that the HEI has indicated should not be published for commercial sensitivity or other reasons
  •  During 2015 the funding bodies will also publish the impact case studies as a searchable database
REF & Impact

The introduction of impact into the REF is an important addition to the assessment of research activity. This change is directly linked to policy statements by the former Secretary of State for Business Innovation and Skills in the document Higher Ambitions. In a letter to HEFCE in January 2009, the Secretary of State emphasised that the REF should take better account of the impact of research on the economy and society, and that:

'The REF should continue to incentivise research excellence, but also reflect the quality of researchers' contribution to public policy making and public engagement, and not create disincentives to researchers moving between academia and the private sector.'

Impact is defined by HEFCE as covering 'economic and social benefits that are built on research of the highest quality'. It does not include impact through intellectual influence on scientific knowledge and academia, or impact on students and teaching within the same Higher Education Institution. For REF, impacts occurring in the assessment period (1st Jan 2008 - 31st July 2013) must be linked to previous underpinning research or research-based activity, which has been supported by the institution claiming the impact. The underpinning research must also reach a threshold of quality defined as 'recognised internationally in terms of originality, significance and rigour.'

HEFCE published details of the types of impact and examples of evidence to support claims for impact in the Main Panel Criteria and Working Methods released in January 2012. For more detail on Impact at Strathclyde go to the Researchers' Portal



REF Structure - Summary table
 weighting 65%
 weighting 20%
weighting 15%
maximum of 4 outputs per submitted person, with reduction for early career researchers and individual circumstances two impact case studies for first 2 - 14.99 FTE submitted, plus one  study per additional 10 submitted staff. UoA level statement UoA level narrative on research environment,  plus quantitative indicators on research degrees awarded and research income
assessed by expert review panels, with citation data provided to some sub panels assessed by expert review panels which include end-users of research assessed by expert review panels, informed by HESA data on research income and doctoral degrees awarded
REF Latest News
  • August 2014: HEFCE announce plans for searchable database of REF impact case studies following publication of results
  • March 2014: HEFCE announce their policy on open access for the next REF exercise
  • HEFCE announce review of the role of metrics in research assessment
  • The University of Strathclyde submitted to REF on 26th November 2013
  • Information on the total number of staff submitted across the UK has been released by HEFCE
  • There will be an audit period from January 2014 when HEFCE may ask the University to provide extracts of staff contracts to verify eligibility, provide details of how we verified the information on early career status or other individual circumstances, produce supporting evidence for impact case studies, send copies of the underpinning research related to impact, or other information requested by the panels
  • All HEFCE audit enquiries will be processed by the Strathclyde REF team
  • HEFCE will publish the overall quality profiles on 18th December 2014 and this will include separate sub-profiles for outputs, impact and environment
  • The Scottish Funding Council will use the percentage of three and four star research in the UoA profiles to calculate the Research Excellence Grant to Scottish Higher Education Institutions from 2015 onwards.
REF and Individual Circumstances

As a key measure to support equality and diversity in research careers, in all UOAs individuals may be returned with fewer than four outputs without penalty in the assessment, where their individual circumstances have significantly constrained their ability to produce four outputs or to work productively throughout the assessment period. This measure is intended to encourage institutions to submit all their eligible staff who have produced excellent research.


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