Information on the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

The deadline for institutional submissions to REF2021 has passed, and our submission was delivered by 31st March 2021, thanks to a huge amount of work done within Units of Assessment, Schools and Professional Services.

Institutional and sectoral results for REF2021 are available here [link available from 12 May 2022] and at www.ref.ac.uk

We have also produced an animated guide to REF

The link to the Institutional Code of Practice explains how we prepared our REF submissions, and how we will manage the data generated during our REF preparations.

The funding bodies have put in place a formal process for individuals to raise complaints where the code of practice which governs the institutional REF preparations has not been applied properly by the submitting institution.  Further information is available here.

The following colleagues were appointed as panel members for REF2021:

  • Professor Marion Campbell, Unit of Assessment 2 Public Health, Health Services and Primary Care
  • Professor Euan Phimister, Unit of Assessment 6 Agriculture, Veterinary and Food Science
  • Professor Xavier Lambin, Unit of Assessment 7 Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences
  • Professor Marian Wiercigroch, Unit of Assessment 12 Engineering
  • Professor Roderick Paisley, Unit of Assessment 18 Law
  • Professor Bernadette Hayes, Unit of Assessment 21 Sociology
  • Professor Alison Brown, Unit of Assessment 22 Anthropology and Development Studies
  • Professor Beth Lord, Unit of Assessment 30 Philosophy (Interdisciplinarity Champion)
  • Professor Tom Greggs, Unit of Assessment 33 Theology and Religious Studies

For further information about REF2021, please contact Marlis Barraclough, Research Policy and REF Manager

REF 2021

What is the REF?

The REF is a sector wide assessment exercise of publicly funded research in the UK. It was last held in 2014, when UK institutions were invited to submit outputs, impact case studies and evidence about the quality of their research environment for assessment. Panels of peer reviewers assessed the institutional submissions in research areas, or units of assessment. The outcome was a quality profile for each unit of assessment which rated the quality of outputs, impacts and the research environment as world leading (4*), internationally excellent (3*), recognised internationally (2*) or recognised nationally (1*). For the general institutional quality profile, the elements of assessment were weighted as follows: publications 65%, impact 20% and research environment 15%.

The REF is the latest iteration of research assessment exercises held by the UK government since the 1980s, each 6 years or so apart from the next. It has always been a selective exercise, in which institutions were invited to submit their best (not all) of their research. It is a measure of research quality as well as research intensity, with research intensive institutions submitting the majority of their eligible staff and others submitting smaller groups of researchers. In the 2014 exercise the largest submission came from University College London which submitted 2,565.6 FTE of their staff (more than 90%), and the smallest came from St Mary’s University College, a teacher training and liberal arts institution which submitted 3 FTE (around 6%). Our own submission rate in 2014 was just over 71%; we submitted 597.2 FTE.

Why does the REF matter?

The REF outcome has become an internationally recognised standard of research quality for UK institutions, and feeds into many institutional ranking and benchmarking exercises. It therefore has great reputational value to UK institutions.

The REF results also feed into the formula used by the funding councils to calculate the annual  research block grant or Research Excellence Grant (REG). 

About two thirds of the REG is calculated through a formula which multiplies the weighted percentage of 4* research and the percentage of 3* research achieved in the REF by each unit of assessment with the number of staff submitted to work out our institutional share of the resource the Scottish Funding Council identifies for distribution each year. The remaining third of the REG calculated on the basis of our share of the sectoral total research income in Scotland over the last three years.

Our REG is currently around £20m a year and is distributed through the school budgets in accordance with numbers of staff submitted and REF quality profiles achieved. 

REF 2014

The page contains key information relating to the REF2014.

REF2014
  • The UK REF2014 was the largest assessment of University research in the world.
  • 76% of the University's research has been rated 'world leading' or 'internationally excellent' in the Research Excellence Framework (REF2014)

For additional information on the REF2014, please visit the HEFCE REF2014 website.

REF 2014 Results

Table of Results

The full results for the University's submissions are listed below.*

 

Arts and Social Sciences
Unit of Assessment FTE Category A staff 4* 3* 2* 1* U

16

Architecture, Built Environment and Planning

10.4

39

47

12

2

0

18

Economics and Econometrics

19.25

3

51

37

9

0

19

Business and Management Studies

13.3

31

42

25

2

0

20

Law

23.4

15

49

33

3

0

21

Politics and International Studies

11.2

7

43

37

13

0

23

Sociology

13

14

58

28

0

0

24

Anthropology and Development Studies

11

23

35

37

5

0

25

Education

9.6

8

59

29

4

0

28

Modern Languages and Linguistics

22

21

41

26

12

0

29

English Language and Literature

21.5

31

62

7

0

0

30

History

24

26

44

29

1

0

32

Philosophy

13.25

31

31

20

18

0

33

Theology and Religious Studies

19

29

39

24

7

1

35

Music, Drama, Dance and Performing Arts

11.36

15

51

23

8

3

Life Sciences and Medicine
Unit of Assessment FTE Category A staff 4* 3* 2* 1* U

01

Clinical Medicine

54.3

25

42

31

1

1

02

Public Health, Health Services and Primary Care

47.5

34

47

19

0

0

04

Psychology, Psychiatry an Neuroscience

20.6

29

65

6

0

0

05

Biological Sciences

89.42

30

53

16

0

1

06

Agriculture, Veterinary and Food Science

20.4

56

36

8

0

0

Physical Sciences
Unit of Assessment FTE Category A staff 4* 3* 2* 1* U

07

Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences

28.4

18

71

10

1

0

08

Chemistry

20.2

14

66

20

0

0

10

Mathematical Sciences

23.1

14

62

24

0

0

11

Computer Science and Informatics

19

22

52

26

0

0

15

General Engineering

38.6

12

70

18

0

0

16

Architecture, Built Environment and Planning

10.4

39

47

12

2

0

17

Geography, Environmental Studies and Archaeology

13.4

13

53

32

2

0

*Results downloaded from http://ref2014tool.analytics.elsevier.com/overall/internal_results
REF 2014 Results Analysis Tool is developed by Elsevier Analytical Services, part of Elsevier Research Intelligence Copyright © 2014 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved

Excellence Performance

Scotland Excellence Performance

Top in Scotland for Performance

(4*+3* research ratings combined)

  • 1st in Public Health, Health Services and Primary Care
  • 1st in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences (Geology and Geosciences)

Top in Scotland for Impact

  • 1st in Public Health, Health Services and Primary Care
  • 1st in Business and Management
  • 1st in Chemistry
  • 1st in Divinity
  • 1st in Geosciences
  • 1st in History

View examples of the University's impact

 

UK Excellence Performance

Top in the UK for Performance

  • 1st in Agriculture, Veterinary and Food Science (Soil and Environmental Science)

(4*+3* research ratings combined)

  • 2nd in the UK for English Language and Literature
  • 3rd in the UK for Psychology and Psychiatry
  • 5th in the UK for Architecture, Built Environment and Planning (Property and Transport)

UK Outstanding Impact

For the first time research was rated in terms of real world impact.

  • 85% of all submissions rated 'outstanding' or 'very considerable' for impact (4*+3*)
  • 1st (joint) in the UK for Agriculture, Veterinary and Food Science (Soil and Environmental Science)
  • 2nd in the UK for Business and Management Studies
  • 2nd in the UK for History

View examples of the University's impact

What was Assessed?

The REF2014 assed three key research areas, as follows:

  1. Research Outputs (65%)
  2. Research Impact (20%)
  3. Research Environment (15%)

The most important of these wss the assessment of research outputs. Each academic member of staff who is selected for submission will normally have to provide four research outputs for inclusion. These were assessed by the sub-Panels. Approximately half of the sub-Panels (mainly in the STEM subjects) took into account the citation counts of the submitted research outputs to inform their decisions. Assessment of research outputs accounted for 65% of each submission’s overall quality rating. The citation counts wereprovided to the REF panels via Scopus, and refered to the research outputs submitted.

After the research output element of the assessment exercise, the non-academic impact of research is the next most significant area to be assessed. This was also assessed by Unit of Assessment, via submission of a pre-determined number of “impact case studies” (number of case studies varying dependant on FTE per Unit) and by assessing how the research environment and research strategy within each Unit supports and facilitates non-academic research impact. The assessment of research impact was new to the REF2014 and accounted for 20% of the overall quality profile within each Unit.

The research output and impact elements of each submission was accompanied by a narrative which described the research environment of each Unit of Assessment. The “research environment” element of the assessment accounted for 15% of each submission. The research environment element assesses research facilities, research strategy, research metrics, career development opportunities, with particular emphasis on early career researchers and postgraduate students, and on equality and diversity issues.

For further information on how submissions were assessed, please access;

Alternatively, these documents are available on the HEFCE website.

 

What do the Quality Ratings Mean?

For the overall quality profile for each Unit of Assessment the quality ratings are as follows:

 

Rating

Definition

4*

Quality that is world leading in terms of originality, significance and rigour

3*

Quality that is internationally excellent in terms of originality, significance and rigour but which falls short of the highest standards of excellence

2*

Quality that is recognised internationally in terms of originality, significance and rigour

1*

Quality that is recognised nationally in terms of originality, significance and rigour

Unclassified

Quality that falls below the standard of nationally recognised work. Or work which does not meet the published definition of research for the purposes of this assessment

For each of the three elements of the assessment – outputs, impact and environment – sub-panels will develop a sub-profile, showing the proportion of the submission that meets each of four starred quality levels. 

  • View the assessment criteria and the definitions of the starred levels for the sub-profiles
How did the University Select Staff for Submission?

Final decisions on the selection of staff for submission to the exercise were made by the institutional REF2014 Steering Group, in consultation with the Colleges. The REF2014 Steering Group has overarching responsibility for managing and coordinating the University’s submission to the REF2014. Decisions on inclusion for submission will be based entirely on research quality.

In making decisions on inclusion, the University, via the REF2014 Steering Group, adhered to its internal REF2014 Equality and Diversity Code of Practice, as required by the Funding Councils. The University's REF2014 Equality and Diversity Code of Practice was approved via the University Court at its meeting on 6 December 2011 and was submitted to the national REF2014 Team (HEFCE) for formal approval.

Key Documentation

Please find a number of documents key REF2014 below.

Impact Related Links:

In order to access the additional documentation on Impact listed below, as released by HEFCE following the Impact Pilot Exercise (2010);

  • HEFCE Impact Pilot Exercise Expert Panel Findings.
  • Feedback from the Higher Education Institutions Involved in the Pilot.
  • Examples of impact case studies best practice, as submitted to the pilot exercise

Please visit the following link: http://www.hefce.ac.uk/rsrch/REFimpact/

RAE 2008

The University's research excellence is reflected in the results of the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) 2008.

World Leading

  • 89% of Aberdeen’s research activity is of international quality and 55% is world leading or internationally excellent. (4* and 3*)
  • All of our 33 submissions have activity rated as world leading or internationally excellent

1st in the UK

  • 1st for Theology, Divinity and Religious Studies
  • 1st equal for Health Services Research

Outstanding Performance

Almost three quarters of our staff were submitted to units where at least half of the research activity was rated as world leading or internationally excellent (70%+)

  • Computer Science and Informatics (70%)
  • Health Services Research (80%)
  • Other Hospital Based Clinical Subjects (75%)
  • Theology, Divinity and Religious Studies (80%)