REF 2021 Research Excellence Framework logo

About the REF

The Research Excellence Framework is the UK's system for assessing the quality of research in UK higher education institutions. It first took place in 2014 and the next exercise was conducted in 2021.

On 12 May 2022, the REF team will publish the results of REF 2021 on behalf of the four UK higher education funding bodies: Research England, the Scottish Funding Council, the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, and the Department for the Economy, Northern Ireland.

Supporting interdisciplinary research

The Stern review of 2016 underlined ‘the essential role of interdisciplinary research in addressing complex problems and research questions posed by global social, economic, ecological and political challenges'.

An underpinning principle of the REF is that all types of research and all forms of research output shall be assessed on a fair and equal basis, including interdisciplinary and collaborative research.

What is the REF's purpose?

The funding bodies' shared policy aim for research assessment is to secure the continuation of a world-class, dynamic and responsive research base across the full academic spectrum within UK higher education. We expect that this will be achieved through the threefold purpose of the REF:

  • To provide accountability for public investment in research and produce evidence of the benefits of this investment.
  • To provide benchmarking information and establish reputational yardsticks, for use within the HE sector and for public information.
  • To inform the selective allocation of funding for research. 

How is the REF carried out?

The REF is a process of expert review, carried out by expert panels for each of the 34 subject-based units of assessment (UOAs), under the guidance of four main panels. Expert panels are made up of senior academics, international members, and research users. 

For each submission, three distinct elements are assessed: the quality of outputs, e.g. publications, performances, and exhibitions, their impact beyond academia, and the environment that supports research. 

Heriot-Watt University has submitted in 11 out of 34 possible Units of Assessment including three joint submissions with the University of Edinburgh:

  • Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences 
  • Architecture, Built Environment & Planning (joint submission with University of Edinburgh)
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • Engineering (joint submission with University of Edinburgh)
  • Mathematical Sciences (joint submission with University of Edinburgh)
  • Computer Science and Informatics
  • Psychology Psychiatry and Neuroscience
  • Business and Management Studies
  • Area Studies
  • Art and Design: History, Practice and Theory

Key information

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