The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is the method used to assess the quality of research in UK higher education institutions. These assessment outcomes are used to inform the research grant allocations from the four Higher Education funding bodies, with effect from 2022–23. HEFCE et al allocate approximately £2 billion per year of quality-related (QR) research funding to UK universities with the aim of supporting a dynamic and internationally competitive UK research sector.
Beyond its primary use for informing the allocation of QR funds to each HEI, the REF provides accountability for public investment in research, demonstrates its benefits, and provides important reputational yardsticks and benchmarking information about the research performance of each UK university (both at an institutional and discipline level).
The REF also provides a rich evidence base to inform strategic decisions about national research priorities, creates a strong performance incentive for HEIs and individual researchers and informs decisions on resource allocation by individual HEIs and other bodies.
In short, the REF matters to the OU because it affects QR income; determines our eligibility to apply for research project funding from some funders; and reputation (which in turn affects our ability to attract partners, new staff and student talent).
The REF exercise is run every several years with each successive REF covering the period since the previous exercise, providing a longitudinal picture of our research landscape, environment and quality. In each exercise, the OU is asked to submit examples of its strongest research outputs and resultant impact.