Evaluating the potential effect of the increased importance of the impact component in the Research Excellence Framework of the UK

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


The UK's Research Excellence Framework (REF) is a system that is intended to evaluate the quality of the research produced by higher education institutes (HEIs) in the UK in three areas: quality of research outputs; impact of this research beyond academia; and research environment. For the next REF, the funding bodies have reviewed the importance of the three assessment elements and decided to increase the weight of ‘impact’ to 25% (from 20% in REF2014) and decrease the weight of ‘outputs’ to 60% (from 65% in REF2014). This article first examines the relevance of some factors for the quality of impact submissions in REF2014 and finds that larger submissions and institutes with higher external research income received better impact scores in the REF. The article then examines the units of assessment (UoAs) and HEIs that benefitted from the inclusion of the impact agenda as part of REF2014 by examining the distribution of the quality‐related research (QR) funding in the 2017–2018 period and finds that the QR funding gap among different UoAs tends to decrease but the gap among HEIs in most of the UoAs increased. With the increased importance of the impact agenda as a criterion for funding bodies, it is expected that research income will be concentrated in fewer universities in the future, with the increased importance of non‐academic impact. This article also discusses some of the gaming strategies and long‐term investment priorities that HEIs may engage in based on the new submission rules of the next REF.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBritish Educational Research Journal
Early online date16 Aug 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 16 Aug 2019



  • Research Excellence Framework

Cite this