Research Excellence Framework
The Research Excellence Framework is the successor to the Research Assessment Exercise, a method of assessing the research of British higher education institutions. It is currently planned to take place in 2014 to assess research that has taken place during the period 2008–2013 inclusive.
In June 2007 the Higher Education Funding Council for England issued a circular letter announcing that a new framework for assessing research quality in UK universities would replace the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE), following the 2008 RAE. The following quote from the letter indicates some of the original motivation:
Our key aims for the new framework will be:
- to produce robust UK-wide indicators of research excellence for all disciplines which can be used to benchmark quality against international standards and to drive the Council's funding for research
- to provide a basis for distributing funding primarily by reference to research excellence, and to fund excellent research in all its forms wherever it is found
- to reduce significantly the administrative burden on institutions in comparison to the RAE
- to avoid creating any undesirable behavioural incentives
- to promote equality and diversity
- to provide a stable framework for our continuing support of a world-leading research base within HE.
The letter also set out a timetable for the development of the REF. HEFCE undertook a consultation exercise during September-December 2009, soliciting responses from stakeholders on the proposals. These include for example the response from Universities UK and the response from the University and College Union.
In July 2010 (following the May 2010 general election), the Universities and Science minister David Willetts announced that the REF will be delayed by a year in order to assess the efficacy of the impact measure.
Grading criteria 
Submissions are assessed according to the following criteria:
- Four star: Quality that is world-leading in terms of originality, significance and rigour.
- Three star: Quality that is internationally excellent in terms of originality, significance and rigour but which falls short of the highest standards of excellence.
- Two star: Quality that is recognised internationally in terms of originality, significance and rigour.
- One star: 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.
Criticism has focused on the element of the REF that addresses the "impact" of research. The articles below raise two objections. The main one is that "impact" has been defined to mean impact outside the academy. If researchers were required to pursue this form of impact, it would undermine academic freedom. The other is that impact - as currently construed - is hard to measure in any way that would be regarded as fair and impartial.
The Higher Education Funding Council for England argue that their measure of "impact" is a broad one which will encompass impact upon the "economy, society, public policy, culture and the quality of life".
- Assessment framework and guidance on submissions, p. 42. http://www.hefce.ac.uk/research/ref/pubs/2011/02_11/02_11.pdf
- Shepherd, Jessica (2009-10-13). "Humanities research threatened by demands for 'economic impact'". Guardian_newspaper (London). Retrieved 2010-05-22.
- "Andrew Oswald: REF should stay out of the game". The Independent (London). 2009-11-26. Retrieved 2010-05-22.
- Felipe Fernández-Armesto (3 November 2009). "Poisonous Impact". Times Higher Education.
- Shepherd, Jessica (2009-10-13). "Humanities research threatened by demands for 'economic impact'". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2010-05-22.