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What is REF?

The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is the new system for assessing the quality of research in UK higher education institutions. It replaced the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE), last conducted in 2008.

The 2014 REF was conducted jointly by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), the Scottish Funding Council (SFC), the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) and the Department for Employment and Learning, Northern Ireland (DEL). The REF was managed by a team based at HEFCE, on behalf of the four UK higher education funding bodies, and was overseen by the REF Steering Group, consisting of representatives of the four funding bodies.

The research of 154 UK universities was assessed.  These 154 institutions made 1,911 submissions including: 52,061 academic staff; 191,150 research outputs and 6,975 impact case studies.  Click here to find out more about REF 2014.


The first results were published in December 2014 and confirmed Cambridge's global strength and depth in research. Further information including the original submissions was published in early January 2015 and can be found here.

For full details, background information, access to the data (view online and download) and to compare the results by Institution and unit of assessment please visit the dedicated REF website here.

Initial analysis of impact case studies

The nature, scale and beneficiaries of research impact: An initial analysis of Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014 impact case studies was published in March 2015. Analysis was undertaken by Digital Science, a division of Macmillan Science & Education; working in conjunction with its sister company Nature Publishing Group and the policy institute at King’s College, London. This project was co-funded by the UK higher education funding bodies, Research Councils UK and Wellcome Trust. Text mining and qualitative analysis techniques were used to undertake a synthetic review of the case studies, and to identify general patterns and thematic structures in the impact of research across the sector.  Download the original report here.

What happens next?

A message from Professor Lynn Gladden (Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Research):
Few definite decisions have yet been made about the next REF, but it is likely that `REF 2014' will be succeeded by `REF 2020'. An important feature of the next REF is that research outputs must have been published `open access' in order to be submitted to the REF. In other words, authors' final peer-reviewed manuscripts must have been deposited in an institutional or subject repository on acceptance for publication. This applies to journal articles and conference proceedings with an International Standard Serial Number (but not monographs, book chapters, other long-form publications, working papers, creative or practice-based research outputs, or data) that are accepted for publication after 1 April 2016.  

The full details of HEFCE's policy can be found here and more information about the University's support for open access can be found here.