A Round Up of the REF Results


After much anticipation, the results of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) were published on Thursday 18th. Universities across the UK received scores for the average quality and ‘power’ of their research with overall rankings presented in a league table.

Here we give you a complete round up of the key points from the REF results day and look forward to REF 2020.

What is REF?

REF 2014 assessed the quality of research at every university in the UK. The assessment consisted of three components:

• Research outputs, for example publications – 65%
• Impact of research, for example lives saved or costs cut – 20%
• Research environment, including staff development and PhD training – 15%

These components are combined to give the overall score for each university department, ranging from one star (lowest) to four stars (highest). At 20% of the overall score, impact makes a significant contribution.

The REF assessment was the first to judge research on the impact that it makes on the world outside of academia. In what has become known as the ‘impact agenda’, each university department submitted case studies to evidence the impact of its work – a time consuming task that drew mixed reactions and stimulated heated debate among academics nation wide.

Researchers wondered, how will the inclusion of impact affect the assessment results? Will it alter the pecking order established by the Research Assessment Exercise of 2008? Or will Russell Group universities continue to dominate the rankings?

In the run up to results day, academics discussed REF 2014 and it became a trending topic on social media. Researchers knew that there was a lot at stake – future funding depends upon a high ranking. The anticipation grew.

Results revealed

As the clock struck twelve at mid-night on Thursday 18th, the REF rankings were published. The media deconstructed the rankings and translated them into a variety of formats: Research Fortnight devoted 20 pages of coverage to REF and its interpretation of the results was repeated by the Guardian, while the Times Newspaper’s Higher Education supplement developed illustrations to breakdown the results. So what exactly was the media discussing?

  • Traditional, pre-1922 universities continue to dominate the rankings
  • Medical institutions have high scores for impact
  • There appears to be a North-South divide, with Southern universities scoring highly – particularly in London’s ‘golden triangle’

In terms of overall success, more research is now classed as ‘world leading’ and ‘internationally excellent’ than ever before:

  • 30% ‘world leading’ (17% in 2008)
  • 46% ‘internationally excellent’ (37% in 2008)
  • Only 4% of research is at or below the national standard (13% in 2008)

A Tweet from the official REF2014 account summarizes the huge improvements in research quality across the board. Screenshot 2014-12-20 14.59.55 Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said that the results highlight the “strength in depth we have in all nations and regions of the UK and across all universities.”

But what about impact? Well according to The Conversation, 84% of research was rated as having an ‘outstanding’ or ‘very considerable’ impact. So despite the initial negative opinions about the inclusion of impact in REF, it turns out that UK universities excel at making an impact and have much to celebrate.

Celebrate success

Indeed, university press officers were keen to shout about their institutions’ success. Many took to social media where a din of almighty self-promotion ensued: according to Twitter, universities across the country each topped the ranking – albeit in highly specific aspects of the assessment.

What next?

This is not the last that you will hear of REF 2014. The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) will develop a formula to allocate the funds according the REF rankings. Although HEFCE will not publish its funding plans until spring of next year, Research Research has boldly set out its predictions.

Looking to the future, REF 2020 will soon be upon us and it is rumoured that – for better or worse – impact will hold a greater weighting. But before we get ahead of ourselves, now is the time to consider how to use the impact data that was painstakingly assimilated for REF 2014. Find out how to put your impact data to better use.


Filed under: Tips,University issues | By Deborah on December 19, 2014 at 7:44 am

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