REF2021 - delivering impact

Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021  

The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is the system for assessing research in UK HEIs. It was first conducted in 2014, and replaced the previous Research Assessment Exercise (RAE). The REF is conducted jointly by Research England (RE), the Scottish Funding Council (SFC), the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) and the Department for the Economy, Northern Ireland (DfE). The REF is managed by the REF team, based at RE, on behalf of the four UK HE funding bodies, and is overseen by the REF Steering Group, consisting of representatives of the four funding bodies.

The primary purpose of REF 2021 is to produce assessment outcomes for each submission made by institutions. The four HE funding bodies intend to use the assessment outcomes to inform the selective allocation of their grant for research to the institutions which they fund, with effect from 2022–23. 

The assessment provides accountability for public investment in research and produces evidence of the benefits of this investment. The assessment outcomes provide benchmarking information and establish reputational yardsticks, for use within the HE sector and for public information. 

The REF will be a process of expert review, with discipline-based expert panels assessing submissions made by HEIs in 34 UOAs. Institutions will make submissions by 27 November 2020. A submission comprises a complete set of data about staff, outputs, impact and the environment returned by an HEI in any of the 34 UOAs. 

Full guidance and criteria for REF 2021.

University of Plymouth staff can access REF and research resources (using their University login). Here you can find a summary of the REF2021 guidance, timelines and key changes

Three key elements of the REF

  • ! Output
  • # Impact
  • < Environment


Makes up 60% of the assessment and consists of outputs produced by the University during the assessment period (1 January 2014 to 31 December 2020). They will be assessed for the quality in terms of their ‘originality, significance and rigour’, with reference to international research quality standards. The total number of outputs must equal 2.5 times the summed FTE of the unit’s submitted staff.


This makes up 15% of the assessment and describes the environment we have to support our research. This includes research strategy, staff development and support for PGRs, collaboration both inside and outside academia and equality and diversity. It also includes data on research income and post-graduate degrees awarded. This will be assessed in terms of its ‘vitality and sustainability’, including the approach to enabling impact from its research, and its contribution to the vitality and sustainability of the wider discipline or research base related to the period 1 August 2013 to 31 July 2020.


Makes up 25% of the assessment and consists of case studies detailing the benefits from our research. They will be will assessed for the ‘reach and significance’ of impacts on the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life that were underpinned by excellent research conducted in the submitted unit. The impact stays with the institution where the research was carried out, i.e. it does not move with the member of staff. Case studies describing specific examples of impacts achieved during the assessment period (1 August 2013 to 31 July 2020), underpinned by excellent research in the period 1 January 2000 to 31 December 2020.

The grades that we receive for each of these elements contributes to an overall grade point average (GPA). We are given a GPA for each UoA and for the University as a whole. These GPAs are then used for calculating the amount of QR funding the University receives and by a number of league tables.

REF 2021 University of Plymouth researchers

HE results

The results of the Research Excellence Framework 2014 (REF2014), carried out by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), were published on 18 December 2014.

They highlighted that all areas submitted by the University of Plymouth included world-leading research, achieving the highest rating possible - scoring four stars.

Classification Overall quality profile description
4* World-leading in terms of originality, significance and rigour
3* Internationally excellent in terms of originality, significance and rigour but which nonetheless falls short of the highest standards of excellence
2* Recognised internationally in terms of originality, significance and rigour
1* Recognised nationally in terms of originality, significance and rigour
U/C Unclassified Work not meeting published definition of research for the purposes of the REF or which falls below national standards

Discover more about our academic, economic and societal impact

At a glance...

  • University of Plymouth submitted 50 impact case studies to REF2014
  • our case studies demonstrated impact on academia, politics, health, culture, technology, society, the economy and environment
  • project funders included 12 national Department of Business, Innovation and Skills funding bodies
  • reaching far and wide, Plymouth's global impact locations included Europe, Africa, Asia, Oceania, North and South America.

Visit the official HEFCE REF2014 website to access all our case studies