Impact in the Research Excellence Framework

The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is the system for assessing the quality of research in UK higher education institutions. It 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. The REF outcomes are used to inform the allocation of around £2 billion per year of public funding for universities' research.

For each submission, three distinct elements are assessed: the quality of outputs, their impact beyond academia, and the environment that supports research and impact. Impact was introduced to the REF in 2014 and REF2014  and REF2021 required HEIs to submit impact case studies demonstrating the impact of their research on wider society. An impact case study is a narrative which describes how research, conducted during a specific time-frame at a named institution, resulted in a change, had an effect on or benefited culture, the economy, the environment, health, public policy, quality of life or society, beyond academia.

The impact section of the REF2021 Guidance on Submissions provides details of the requirements for a REF impact case study and how they are assessed.

Annex A of the ‘Panel Criteria and working methods’ illustrates the wide variety of areas in which impact from research may be found to have a positive influence on the quality of life of individuals and communities locally, nationally and internationally.