Research Excellence Framework

The Research Excellence Framework (often called the ‘REF’) is the system for assessing the quality of research in higher education institutions in the United Kingdom.

The REF is carried out every six or seven years. The first REF took place in 2014, replacing the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE). The REF assesses the activities of research-active academic staff, and it is focused on three elements:

  • outputs (publications and practice-based outputs),
  • impact (the demonstrable benefit of research to society) and;
  • environment (the structures and strategy that support research).

The information that we submit is assessed by experts from academia and research users.  The results of the assessment are presented as a ‘quality profile’ showing the percentage of research at five quality ratings, with 4* or world-leading research being the highest score.

Why is the Research Excellence Framework important?

With substantial amounts of public funding being invested in research in universities, the Research Excellence Framework provides accountability and helps us to demonstrate the economic and social contribution of our research to society. The REF also informs the allocation of funds on the basis of research quality. It can measure the development of our researchers and has a positive link to student experience, due to the relationship between research and teaching.

REF 2021 performance

On 12 May 2022 the results of the REF 2021 exercise were announced and Staffordshire University has achieved a substantial improvement in our research performance: 

  • 68% of Staffordshire University’s research was recognised as 3* and 4*, which is “internationally excellent” and “world leading” respectively. This is up from 37% in 2014 when the last REF results were announced.  

  • 87% of the University’s research impact has been rated as (3*) “very considerable” or (4*) “outstanding”.   

In total, 109 members of staff and 244 research outputs were submitted into REF 2021. Staffordshire University entered seven Units of Assessment: Allied Health; Engineering; Archaeology; Business and Management; Social Work and Social Policy; Art and Design and Communication and Cultural Studies. Each unit had research which has been recognised as “world leading”. The full results can be accessed from the REF website.

View our press release

Find out more about our impactful research

Code of Practice

Following a consultation process, our Code of Practice has been approved by Research England. It sets out our approach to ensuring equality of opportunity for all eligible staff in REF 2021.

UK University

StudentCrowd University Awards 2022

for Job Prospects

StudentCrowd University Awards 2022

for Student Satisfaction

Complete University Guide 2022

for Social Inclusion

The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide 2022

for Course Content

StudentCrowd University Awards 2022

of Research Impact is ‘Outstanding’ or ‘Very Considerable’

Research Excellence Framework 2021