Published on 11/05/2022
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Aston University, Birmingham
  • The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is a national assessment of the research taking place across UK universities
  • 79% of Aston University’s research rated as ‘world leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’
  • 74% of research impact rated ‘very considerable’ or ‘outstanding’

The Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021 has rated 79% of Aston University research as ‘world leading’ (4*) or ‘internationally excellent’ (3*).

In addition, 74% of the impact of the University’s research has been rated “very considerable” or “outstanding” for reach and significance.

The number of Aston University staff being submitted for assessment has doubled since the last REF in 2014 and, over the same period, the University has increased the proportion of its highest rated 4* publications from 21% in 2014 to 29% in 2021.

Aston University took a highly inclusive approach to its REF return, making a 100% submission of eligible staff across seven REF assessment units and more than doubling its ‘research power’ since REF 2014. Research power is calculated by the overall quality of the submission (the 'grade point average') multiplied by the full-time equivalent number of researchers submitted.

The REF is the UK’s system for assessing the quality of research in UK higher education institutions. For the first time, the assessment included the submission of all staff with significant responsibility for research, meaning the results provide a unique insight into the quality of research conducted across the breadth of university activity.

The results of REF 2021 will also determine how around £1.75 billion in research funding will be allocated each year across the UK.

In total, 157 UK universities participated, submitting over 76,000 academic staff. Submissions included research outputs, examples of the wider benefits of research and evidence about the research environment.

This material was assessed by a series of expert panels comprising UK and international researchers, external users of research and experts in interdisciplinary research. More Aston University academics than ever before were appointed as panel members.

Saskia Loer Hansen, Interim Vice-Chancellor of Aston University, said:

“Research has always been at the heart of our mission and leads the way in how we deliver for our beneficiaries: our students, business and professions, as well as more broadly in our region and wider society.

“The significant increase in the volume of our research and our submission of 100% eligible researchers to the REF reflects our dual intensive status and our commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion.”

Professor Simon Green, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research) at Aston University, said:

“We have significantly grown the number of our academic staff undertaking high quality research. In fact, the number of staff we submitted in 2021 more than doubled compared to 2014.

“Importantly, almost four-fifths of our research is either ‘world leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’. The fact that we have achieved this major growth in the volume of research submitted while also maintaining the quality of our research is no mean feat.

“This reflects the passion and commitment of our researchers - as well as those who provide them with professional support - to fulfil our mission to generate research that makes a difference to people, organisations and economies.”

Speaking on behalf of the four UK higher education funding bodies, Steven Hill, Chair of the REF Steering Group and Director of Research at Research England, said:

“These results today reinforce the UK’s position as a world leader in research, corroborating the views of international commentators and highlighting our trajectory towards global research leadership across a broad set of disciplines. They represent an exceptional achievement for UK university research and demonstrate the huge return on public investment in research.”

Notes to Editors

About the REF

The REF was undertaken by the four higher education funding bodies for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland: Research England, the Scottish Funding Council (SFC), the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW), and the Department for the Economy, Northern Ireland (DfE). REF 2021 was managed on behalf of the funding bodies by a UK team based at Research England.

The results provide benchmarks and public information about the research performance of universities. The results will be used by the four UK higher education funding bodies to allocate research funding to universities – around £2 billion per year from 2022-23.

The REF is a discipline-based expert review process. 34 expert sub-panels, working under the guidance of four main panels, reviewed the submissions and made judgements on their quality. The panels comprised 900 academics, including 38 international members, and 220 users of research.

157 HEIs participated, making a total of 1,878 submissions to the 34 panels. Institutions’ submissions ranged from four staff submitted to a single panel, to over 3,000 staff submitted to 30 panels.

The results of the REF are available at

About Aston University

Founded in 1895 and a University since 1966, Aston is a long established university led by its three main beneficiaries – students, business and the professions, and our region and society. Aston University is located in Birmingham and at the heart of a vibrant city and the campus houses all the university’s academic, social and accommodation facilities for our students. Saskia Hansen is the interim Vice-Chancellor & Chief Executive.

Aston University was named University of the Year 2020 by The Guardian and the University’s full time MBA programme has been ranked in the top 100 in the world in the Economist MBA 2021 ranking. The Aston MBA has been ranked 12th in the UK and 85th in the world.

For media inquiries in relation to this release, contact Rebecca Hume, Press and Communications Manager, on (+44)7557 745416 or email:

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