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Outcomes of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021

The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is the UK’s world-leading system for assessing the excellence of university research. The REF outcomes are used to calculate about £2 billion per year of public funding for research, and establish reputational yardsticks. The results also inform strategic decisions about national research priorities. 

The results provide rich information on the strengths of UK research across the full range of subject areas. For each submission made by a university in one or more of 34 subject-based units of assessment (UOAs), three distinct elements are assessed: the quality of outputs (e.g. publications, performances, and exhibitions), the impact of research beyond academia, and the environment that supports research.  

The REF is a process of expert review, conducted by 34 expert sub-panels working under the guidance of four main panels. The expert sub-panels are made up of 900 academic members – including 38 international members – from across 130 universities in the UK and worldwide, and 220 research users from a diverse range of sectors, including medicine and healthcare, industrial, energy and environment, media, voluntary, cultural and creative, education and public administration. 

The four UK higher education funding bodies; Research England, the Scottish Funding Council (SFC), the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW), and the Department for the Economy, Northern Ireland (DfE), published the outcomes of the REF 2021 exercise on Thursday 12 May.  Representatives from the REF 2021 exercise were at the SMC to present the outcomes ahead of publication, and to discuss and respond to questions on the results. 


Speakers included:

Professor Dinah Birch, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Cultural Engagement and Professor of English Literature at the University of Liverpool, and Chair of REF Main Panel D (Arts and humanities) 

Professor Bernie Hannigan, Chair of Health Research Board, Ireland (until 2021 Director of Research, Translation and Innovation at Public Health England) and Member of Main Panel A (Medicine, health and life sciences)

Dr Steven Hill, Director of Research at Research England, and Chair of the REF Steering Group 

David Sweeney, Executive Chair of Research England 

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