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.
All Heads of School and Unit of Assessment leads have received a copy of their REF documentation – please note that all REF data and narratives remain embargoed until published by the Research England REF team in Summer 2022. The results are expected in April 2022, and they will inform the institutional Research Excellence Grant from the Scottish Funding Council from 2022/23 onwards.
We have also produced an animated guide to REF What is REF? video and guide
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 have been 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
Key contacts: Contact details for staff supporting REF2021
|Role||Contact details||Can help with|
|Senior Policy Adviser||General questions on REF including staff eligibility, outputs, impact and environment|
|Research Policy & Governance Officer||General questions on REF, impact, ethics, outputs and external review process|
|Research Impact Manager||
Impact case study preparation and Impact funding
|Impact Officer||Impact case study preparation and impact support for staff based in the School of Medicine, Medical Sciences & Nutrition and the School of Psychology|
|Open Access Team||Open access and REF eligibility of outputs|
|Research Information Officer||General questions on REF, technical support of REF, proposal of outputs through Pure|
|Public Engagement with Research Unit||
||Supporting the creation of impact|
Key contacts: Contact details for REF Unit Leads
|Panel||Submitting Units of Assessment||Unit Leads|
- 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.
What are the REF open access requirements and how do I comply?
The REF open access policy requires that, in order to be eligible for submission in the next REF, all journal articles and conference proceedings with an ISSN number that have been accepted for publication on or after 1 April 2016 must be publicly accessible through an institutional repository within 3 months of acceptance for publication. Where publishers do not allow open access through a repository within the REF acceptable timelines, the output still needs to be discoverable and a valid reason for closed deposit will need to be recorded.
We are therefore asking that researchers should check the REF compliance of the journals to which they are planning to submit an article for publication – this can be done at https://ref.sherpa.ac.uk/. Where possible, compliant journals should be chosen.
On acceptance, or as soon as possible, please send your acceptance e-mail and final accepted manuscript to email@example.com or upload both documents into Pure along with the bibliographic data available at that point.
This applies to all articles, regardless of whether they can be enabled for open access or not. Colleagues in the library will check the data, enable open access, set embargoes or record an exception and will make sure that the item is discoverable and accessible in accordance with the REF rules.
Find out more about the policy, how to comply and acceptable exception on /staffnet/research/impact-ref-and-open-access.php
How has the University put together the REF 2021 submission?
The Vice-Principal for Research, Professor Marion Campbell, is responsible for the institutional REF submission. She works with a small team within Research & Innovation who keep up to date on policy developments and support the systems that record and manage the data required for the submission. She is supported by the three Directors of Research who oversee the preparations for submissions to the main panels relevant to their own research areas: Professor Gary Macfarlane for Main Panel A (Life Sciences and Medicine), Professor Mirela Delibegovic for Main Panel B (Physical Sciences and Engineering) and Professor Michael Brown for Main Panels C and D (Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities).
Heads of School and School Directors of Research have identified a lead researcher for each unit of assessment, and a researcher responsible for co-ordinating the impact element of the submission. Some larger units of assessment have a small team of researchers working together on REF preparations. If you want to know who the relevant leads of your unit of assessment are, please contact either your School Director of Research or firstname.lastname@example.org.
What do I have to do
We are asking all REF eligible researchers (under the 2014 rules until the 2021 guidance has been published) to propose outputs for submission in Pure. A short guide on how to do this is available here.
If your research has had, or has the potential to have, impact beyond academia, please discuss with your unit of assessment lead or impact lead in the first instance. The University supports the creation of impact of various kinds through
- Research & Innovation – commercialisation, licensing, patenting , enterprise, knowledge exchange, contact Dr Ann Lewendon (email@example.com; ext. 2477);
- Public Engagement with Research Unit, (firstname.lastname@example.org; ext. 3739); or
- Public Affairs Team - engagement with policy makers/influence on public policy contact Sue Bird (email@example.com, ext. 2088) or Godfrey Brown (firstname.lastname@example.org, ext. 3231)
Any further questions
Please contact Marlis Barraclough, Senior Policy Advisor
- REF 2014
- 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
Architecture, Built Environment and Planning
Economics and Econometrics
Business and Management Studies
Politics and International Studies
Anthropology and Development Studies
Modern Languages and Linguistics
English Language and Literature
Theology and Religious Studies
Music, Drama, Dance and Performing Arts
Life Sciences and Medicine Unit of Assessment FTE Category A staff 4* 3* 2* 1* U
Public Health, Health Services and Primary Care
Psychology, Psychiatry an Neuroscience
Agriculture, Veterinary and Food Science
Physical Sciences Unit of Assessment FTE Category A staff 4* 3* 2* 1* U
Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences
Computer Science and Informatics
Architecture, Built Environment and Planning
Geography, Environmental Studies and Archaeology
*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
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
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
What was Assessed?
The REF2014 assed three key research areas, as follows:
- Research Outputs (65%)
- Research Impact (20%)
- 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;
- The REF2014 Assessment Framework and Guidance on Submissions Document
- The REF2014: Amendments to the Assessment Framework and Guidance on Submissions Document (January 2012)
- The Panel Criteria and Working Methods documentation (which also details variations between assessment criteria by Main Panel)
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:
Quality that is world leading in terms of originality, significance and rigour
Quality that is internationally excellent in terms of originality, significance and rigour but which falls short of the highest standards of excellence
Quality that is recognised internationally in terms of originality, significance and rigour
Quality that is recognised nationally in terms of originality, significance and rigour
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.
- Download a copy of the University's REF2014 Equality and Diversity Code of Practice, as submitted to the REF2014 Team.
Please find a number of documents key REF2014 below.
- Assessment Framework and Guidance on Submission
- Full Panel Criteria and Working Methods
- HEFCE Decisions on the Assessment of Impact
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.
- 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
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%)