Research Excellence Framework (REF)

The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is the system used to assess the quality of research in UK HEIs. Our University submitted to REF2021 in March, with the results expected to be published in April 2022.

Research excellent framework logo

Regular research quality assessment

UK universities take part in a UK wide assessment of the quality of their research approximately every 6 years. This exercise is carried out by panels of experts working on behalf of the UK Higher Education Funding Bodies and the results are used to provide information about the quality of a university’s research for internal and external benchmarking and the allocation of research funding. All Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in receipt of public funding are expected to take part.


The data assessed is associated with research from all independent and research academic staff, focussed on three components: outputs (articles, chapters, monographs, performances), impact (benefit of research to society) and environment (strategy for growing and supporting research).  Academic disciplines are grouped into Units of Assessments (UoAs), with HEIs deciding which Units of Assessment they submit to.

This data is assessed by expert panels of academics and research users, and the results of the assessment are presented as a ‘quality profile’ showing the percentage of research at five quality ratings: 4* (world-leading), 3* (internationally excellent), 2* (internationally recognised), 1* (nationally recognised) to unclassified.

The University of Northampton submitted to the following UoAs in REF2021 (click through to explore our research in these areas):

REF2021 – Code of Practice

The Code of Practice covers the process for determining staff eligibility for submission to the REF and the selection of outputs for the submission.

The Code of Practice has been approved and published by UKRI, this is the final version and incorporates all changes required in light of Covid-19 and the extension of the REF submission date to 31 March 2021.

REF2021 publications and consultation documents

The four Higher Education Funding Bodies established a REF team which is responsible for the conduct of REF2021 and the assessment of the submitted material. REF2021 publications and consultation documents are available from the REF2021 website. 


The last assessment exercise was the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014.  The university submitted information to the exercise in November 2013 and the results were published in December 2014.