Higher Education Funding Council England (HEFCE)
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Major consultation on the new Research Excellence Framework published

HEFCE has today published a consultation, on behalf of the four UK higher education funding bodies, on the Research Excellence Framework (REF) (Note 1). The REF is the new process for assessing research in UK higher education institutions, enabling the selective allocation of funding. It will replace the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE).

Through the REF, the UK funding bodies aim to develop and sustain a dynamic and internationally competitive research sector that makes a major contribution to economic prosperity, national wellbeing and the expansion and dissemination of knowledge. Each year around £1.76 billion is allocated by the UK funding bodies (Note 2) for research.

The REF will focus on three elements, which together reflect the key characteristics of research excellence. It will be based on universities and higher education colleges submitting evidence of their research activity and outcomes, which will be assessed by expert panels against these elements:

  • Outputs – The primary focus of the REF will be to identify excellent research of all kinds. The quality of research outputs will be assessed against international standards of excellence. All types of high-quality research outputs will be encouraged, and assessed on an equal basis. Outputs will be assessed through a process of expert review, informed by citation information in subjects where robust data are available (for example in medicine and science).
  • Impact – Significant additional recognition will be given where researchers build on excellent research to deliver demonstrable benefits to the economy, society, public policy, culture and quality of life. Impacts will be assessed through a case study approach that will be tested in a pilot exercise.
  • Environment – The REF will take account of the quality of the research environment in supporting a continuing flow of excellent research and its effective dissemination and application. This will include, for example, the research strategy, staff development and training of postgraduate researchers, and engagement with research users and the public.

The consultation closes on Wednesday 16 December 2009. We propose that HEIs will submit portfolios of research in 2012 for assessment in 2013. The results will be published in December 2013 and used to determine funding from 2014 (Note 3).

David Sweeney, HEFCE Director for Research, Innovation and Skills, said:

'The REF will recognise and reward excellent research and the sharing of new knowledge for the benefit of the economy and society. It will also ensure the effective allocation of public funds. It will encourage the productive interchange of research staff and ideas between higher education and business, Government and other sectors.

'The REF builds on the success of the RAE which is recognised worldwide as an effective and authoritative system. It incorporates important new features particularly in recognising the impact of research.'


1.   See 'Research Excellence Framework: Second consultation on the assessment and funding of research’ (HEFCE 2009/38).

2.   The four UK funding bodies are: Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW), Scottish Funding Council (SFC), Department for Employment and Learning (Northern Ireland) (DEL).

3.   As determined by each of the four higher education funding bodies.

4.   The proposals published today follow an initial consultation on the REF in late 2007 ('Research Excellence Framework: consultation on the assessment and funding of higher education research post-2008', HEFCE 2007/34). They build on a pilot exercise on the use of citation information, consideration of how to assess the impact of research as a key new element in the framework, lessons drawn from the 2008 RAE, and extensive advice and discussions with a wide range of stakeholders.

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