Higher Education Funding Council England (HEFCE)
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Consultation on the second Research Excellence Framework (REF 2021)

Respond to the consultation by noon on Friday 17 March 2017.

The consultation sets out proposals to build on the first Research Excellence Framework (REF) (Note 1), conducted in 2014, and to incorporate the principles identified in Lord Stern’s Independent Review of the REF (Note 2).

A letter from the Minister for Universities and Science, Jo Johnson, invited HEFCE to work alongside the other funding bodies to develop detailed proposals to take forward the recommendations from Lord Stern’s review for the next REF and to consult the higher education sector on these proposals in autumn 2016.

Lord Stern’s review acknowledged that the processes used to assess research excellence are well understood by the community and have, broadly speaking, delivered well against their objective to improve quality. The consultation proposes that an exercise broadly similar in approach to REF 2014 is the most appropriate mechanism for continuing to support our world-class research base.

The recommendations made in Lord Stern’s review are intended to reduce the burden and any distortions associated with the REF process while maintaining and improving incentives for research excellence. These include recommendations relating to:

  • the inclusion of all research-active staff
  • non-portability of outputs (Note 3)
  • the approach to research impact
  • the information required to assess the research environment
  • the introduction of an institutional-level assessment of impact and environment.

Alongside the implementation of Lord Stern’s recommendations, the consultation makes further proposals on the basis of evidence gathered in other REF2014 evaluation activity.

The consultation invites responses to proposals on:

  • overall approach
  • Unit of Assessment structure
  • expert panels
  • staff
  • collaboration
  • outputs
  • impact
  • environment
  • institutional-level assessment
  • outcomes and weightings
  • proposed timetable.

As part of the consultation, five briefing events are being run in London (two), Glasgow, Manchester and Bristol (Note 4).

HEFCE Chief Executive Madeleine Atkins said:

‘We welcome the opportunity for the sector to contribute to the implementation of the next Research Excellence Framework and we are pleased to be able to publish the consultation document. The consultation asks for views on the practical applications of Lord Stern’s recommendations on research assessment, seeking to reduce burden in the 2021 REF.’

See further information on this consultation.


1. See the REF website.

2. See ‘Building on success and learning from experience: An independent review of the Research Excellence Framework’ by Lord Stern.

3. Non-portability of outputs refers to the proposal that research outputs should be submitted by the university where they were generated, and not transferred to another university.

4. See details of the briefing events.

5. The primary purpose of the REF is to assess the quality of research. The four higher education funding bodies use the assessment outcomes to inform the selective allocation of their grant for research to the institutions which they fund. The assessment also provides accountability for public investment in research and produces evidence of the benefits of this investment. The assessment outcomes provide benchmarking information and establish reputational yardsticks, for use within the higher education (HE) sector and for public information. 

Channel website: http://www.hefce.ac.uk

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