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Research Excellence Framework

The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is the new system developed by the four UK higher education funding bodies to evaluate the quality of research in UK higher education institutions (HEIs) and inform the funding bodies’ selective allocation of public funds for research.

What is the REF?

  • The REF is a process of expert review. For the 2014 REF, HEIs were invited to make submissions in 36 subject categories, known as units of assessment. These submissions were assessed by an expert sub-panel for each unit of assessment, guided by four main panels. The sub-panels applied generic assessment criteria to produce quality ratings for research across all disciplines.
  • The first REF was completed this year, 2014. Higher education institutions made their submissions to the REF in November 2013. Throughout 2014 sub-panels assessed the submissions and the results were announced on 18 December 2014.

Birkbeck and the REF

  • Along with all other universities in the country, Birkbeck participated in the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF). This is an audit of the quality of the research carried out in the UK higher education sector.
  • The results of the REF will determine the bulk of each university’s research funding between 2015 and 2021 (as the results of the last such exercise have done over the past six years). They will also have a significant impact on each university’s - and each department’s - reputation, and will have knock-on effects on the likelihood of getting grants and recruiting high-quality staff and research students.
  • Panels of academics chosen by the Higher Education Funding Councils met during 2014 to judge the quality and social impact of research, and the environment in which it takes place, for each discipline or ‘Unit of Assessment’ (UoA). The results were announced on 18 December 2014.
  • We made our REF submission in November 2013 and included as many staff as possible (more than 80% of eligible academics – over 350 people). We entered submissions in 14 UoAs, two of them (Biological Sciences; and Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences) jointly with University College London. The other submissions were in: Arts and Design: History, Practice and Theory; Business and Management Studies; Computer Science and Informatics; Economics and Econometrics; English Language and Literature; History; Law; Modern Languages and Linguistics; Philosophy; Politics and International Studies; Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience; Sociology.
  • A requirement to show the impact of our research is included in the REF for the first time. This has involved producing an overall account and a number of case studies showing the effect our research has had on the world outside the academy. See examples of areas where Birkbeck’s research is making an impact below.

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