What is REF?

The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is a system to assess the quality and impact of research in HEIs, carried out approximately every 7-8 years to:

  • show the quality and output of UK research on a domestic and global stage.
  • show the impact research has on our society and highlight its real-world benefits.

Who runs the REF?

The REF is jointly conducted by the four UK higher education funding bodies:

  • Research England (RE)
  • Scottish Funding Council (SFC)
  • Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW)
  • Department for the Economy, Northern Ireland (DfE)


It is managed by the REF team based at Research England, and a steering group from the four funding bodies.

The funding bodies aim to secure the continuation of a world-class, dynamic and responsive research base across the full academic spectrum within UK higher education.

Why does it matter to UEL?

The four UK higher education funding bodies use the REF to inform the allocation of around £2 billion of research funding per year. The thoroughness of the exercise is designed to provide accountability for public investment in research, demonstrating its benefits and impact.

REF is also used by HE institutions for:

  • Benchmarking and establishing reputational yardsticks with peer institutions and departments.
  • Understanding institutional strengths for external communications.
  • Informing strategic university decisions.
  • Understanding larger sector-wide trends.
  • Attracting researchers and postgraduate students.
  • Learning more about a university or department you might want to work with.
  • Securing further funding.

Lessons learned from the current exercise will inform the Future Research Assessment Programme (FRAP), which is exploring possible future approaches to the assessment of UK higher education research performance, including through dialogue with the HE sector.

When were the REF 2021 results announced?

The results were released on Thursday 12 May 2022.

Who has entered REF 2021?

157 UK universities have participated in REF 2021.

What was entered into REF?

Our submission was comprised of three key components: Research outputs, Impact Case Studies (ICS), and environment statements.

A research output is any form of research published, or otherwise made publicly available, within the set period, such as chapters in books, designs, exhibitions, journal articles, authored books and performances. If you have any questions about outputs you have submitted, please contact your UoA coordinator. Please note that REF does not provide any information about the performance or ranking of any individual outputs.

Through our Impact Case Studies we Illustrated the real-world impact and benefits of the research. This is a vital element of the REF process and demonstrated how UEL research brings tangible changes to society, people and public life.

The research environment statements evaluates the strategy, resources and infrastructure that support research. These include postgraduate completions, research centres and groups, facilities and research cultures.

UEL and other UK universities were required to submit all staff with significant responsibility for research.

How are submissions ranked?

REF assesses the quality of research in participating UK universities, in all disciplines. It is carried out by 34 expert panels (sub-panels), grouped into four main panels.

The expert panels review submissions made to the 34 'units of assessment' (UOA). Each UOA covers a subject area such as clinical medicine, engineering, law and history.

The 34 sub-panels work under the guidance of four umbrella (‘main’) panels made up of academics - including from HE institutions in the UK and overseas - research users and experts in interdisciplinary research.

  • Main Panel A: Medicine, health and life sciences
  • Main Panel B: Physical sciences, engineering and mathematics
  • Main panel C: Social sciences
  • Main Panel D: Arts and humanities


The panels assess the submitted material and form a sub-profile for each aspect (outputs, impact and environment), which shows the proportion of submitted activity judged at each quality level. The sub-profiles are combined to form an overall quality profile, which is the primary assessment outcome for each submission.

UEL will get an overall quality profile for each submission, and a sub-profile for each of outputs, impact and environment.

The overall quality profiles are as follows:

  • 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: 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.