Research Excellence Framework (REF)

In REF2014 Loughborough was ranked a top ten research University in the Times Higher Education (THE) intensity rankings. We are now preparing for our REF2021 submission.

What is the REF?

The Research Excellence Framework assesses the quality of research in UK Higher Education Institutions. The next REF will be assessed in 2021, across 34 subject based Units of Assessment (UoA). The REF informs the selective annual allocation of funding for the period between exercises (c. 6 years), awarded by the four UK higher education bodies. The assessment provides accountability for public investment in research and produces evidence of the benefits of this research in the form of case studies.

In REF2021 three main areas will be independently assessed by UoA Panels; analysis of outputs (60%), impact (25%) and research environment (15%). In 2014, quality ratings for all three sub-sections led to an Overall Quality profile for each UoA submitted. Loughborough University made 18 submissions to 17 UoAs. For further detail on how we performed in 2014 see the REF2014 website


Following the 2014 Research Excellence Framework, Lord Stern performed an independent review of the exercise to which Loughborough University responded. Following Lord Stern’s report, HEFCE published a consultation on some proposed changes to the REF.

Some initial guidance on REF2021 was subsequently published in September 2017, followed by some key decisions on staff and outputs in November 2017 (updated April 2018). 

In July 2018, Research England published the Guidance to Panels, the REF2021 Draft Guidance on submissions; and the Consultation on draft panel criteria and working methods.   

The key decisions include:

  • All staff with a significant responsibility for research should be submitted.
  • The average number of outputs per member of staff submitted should be 2.5 with a minimum of 1 and a maximum of 5.
  • This may include outputs of staff who no longer work at Loughborough University as long as they were demonstrably generated here.
  • Each submission should include a total of one case study, plus one additional case study per up to 15 FTE staff submitted, for the first 105 returned.

Sub-panel Chairs were announced in December 2017.


Next Steps

Full guidance and panel criteria should be available in late Jan 2019.

Further Information

Further information about the REF is available from the REF2021 website.

Loughborough University’s REF submission is overseen by the Research Policy and Planning team. Email: