The REF explained

Get an overview of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) and why it’s so important.

About the REF

The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is the UK’s national assessment of research in higher education institutions (HEIs).

Its results help decide research funding worth about £2 billion in public money to UK HEIs.

The main purposes of the REF are to:

  • provide accountability for public investment in research
  • provide benchmarking information for use within the Higher Education sector and for public information
  • to inform the selective allocation of quality-related (QR) funding for research.
Keith Jones
“We’re enormously proud of our research community. Our REF 2021 results are a testament to the quality and impact of our work. As a research-intensive university, we’re delighted our peers have judged so much of our research to be of the highest calibre.” Professor Keith Jones
Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Research and Enterprise

Why the REF is important

The REF is the biggest assessment of research excellence in the world.

Panels of experts (from academia and beyond) have read and assessed thousands of submissions made by HEIs in specific subject areas (known as “units of assessment”).

The REF matters because it helps to decide how money from a major UK government budget is distributed. The REF also boosts public recognition of the quality and relevance of HEI research.

Results from the REF feed into several of the major league tables, which have a significant effect on student and staff recruitment.

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    89%world-leading or internationally excellent**

  • 2,021research outputs*

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    32ndrank in UK for Impact***

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    27thrank in UK for Research Power***

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    1,604PhDs awarded*

  • 83 impact case studies*

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    25research areas*

*University of Sussex submission data to the Research Excellence Framework (REF 2021)
**The Research Excellence Framework (REF2021), published 12 May 2022
***Times Higher Education (THE), published 12 May 2022

How the REF is scored

The REF generates an assessment profile for each submission, allocating percentages across these grades:

  • 4* (world-leading)
  • 3* (internationally excellent)
  • 2* (recognised internationally)
  • 1* (recognised nationally)
  • unclassified.

A higher set of quality grades for each institution in the REF translates into more financial support and enhanced reputational recognition.

When the REF happens

The REF normally takes place roughly every seven years. This time, REF 2021 was delayed because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Research England, the agency that runs the REF, published the results of REF 2021 on Thursday 12 May 2022.

We published our own summary of our REF results and commented on how we did at the time.

We used our REF results to highlight our stories of outstanding research and real-world impact. You can view case studies of the Sussex submissions to REF 2021.

REF 2014

We are proud of our performance in the previous REF, carried out in 2014. Over 75% of the Sussex submission was categorised as world-leading (4*) or internationally excellent (3*).

Individual highlights of the REF 2014 results included:

  • Sussex History was the highest rated History submission in the UK for the quality of its research outputs
  • the Sussex English submission rose from 31st to 9th across the UK since the last research assessment exercise (RAE) in 2008
  • 84% of the University’s research impact in Psychology was rated 4* – the top possible grade
  • Sussex Geography had the most 4*-rated research impact of any Geography submission across the UK.

Overall, the University was placed 36th of all multi-disciplinary institutions in the UK (submitting to more than three subject areas) by grade point average (GPA). Institutional [PDF] and per-subject [PDF] ranking data for REF 2014 and RAE 2008 [PDF] sourced from Times Higher Education.

View all our REF 2014 results in the Sussex archive.

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