About the REF

The four UK higher education funding bodies allocate about £2 billion per year of research funding to UK universities, based on the quality and volume of each university's research. They aim to support a dynamic and internationally competitive UK research sector that makes a major contribution to economic prosperity, national wellbeing and the expansion and dissemination of knowledge.

In order to distribute funds selectively on the basis of quality, the funding bodies assess universities' research through a periodic exercise . This exercise was previously known as the Research Assessment Exercise(RAE), and was last conducted in 2008.

The 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF) replaced the RAE. It assessed the quality and impact of research submitted by UK universities across all disciplines. The results were published in December 2014 and will be used by the funding bodies to allocate block-grant research funding to universities from 2015-16.

As well as informing funding allocations, the REF provides accountability for public investment in research, demonstrates its benefits, and provides important reputational yardsticks and benchmarking information about the research performance of UK universities.

REF 2014 key facts

  • 154 UK universities took part
  • there were 1,911 submissions for:
    • 52,077 academic staff
    • 191,232 research outputs
    • 6,975 impact case studies.
  • 36 expert sub-panels reviewed the submissions, overseen by four main panels

Overall quality profile: definitions of starred levels

Result Definition
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.
Unclassified (UC) 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.

Visit the REF website for more information about assessment criteria and level definitions.