The Research Excellence Framework (REF)

About REF

The REF is the UK’s system for assessing the quality of research in UK higher education institutions. It first took place in 2014. The latest exercise was conducted in 2021.

What is the purpose of the REF?

The funding bodies’ shared policy aim for research assessment is to secure the continuation of a world-class, dynamic and responsive research base across the full academic spectrum within UK higher education. We expect that this will be achieved through the threefold purpose of the REF:

  • To provide accountability for public investment in research and produce evidence of the benefits of this investment
  • To provide benchmarking information and establish reputational yardsticks, for use within the HE sector and for public information
  • To inform the selective allocation of funding for research. 

For more information about the REF, visit their website.

Aston's performance in REF 2021

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 made a 100% submission of eligible staff across seven REF assessment units and has more than doubled its ‘research power’ since 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.

Find out more.

Aston's performance in REF 2014
  • 78% of research outputs were evaluated as 'world leading' or 'internationally recognised', up from 45% in RAE 2008.
  • In Allied Health Professions, Dentistry, Nursing and Pharmacy, 94% of our research was judged to be World Leading or Internationally Excellent (4*/3*).
  • In three Units of Assessment (Computer Science and Informatics, Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Metallurgy and Materials, and Business and Management Studies) all of our impact case studies were rated 4* or 3*.
  • In the seven Units of Assessment where Aston submitted a return, 88.7% of Aston's research was found to have high levels of impact.
  • In three Units of Assessment (Allied Health Professions, Dentistry, Nursing and Pharmacy; Business and Management Studies Modern Languages and Linguistics) Aston was recognised as a great place for researchers, with the vitality and sustainability of our research environment rated 4* and 3*.

How we compare

  • In Area Studies we were rated in the top 3 in the UK – ahead of the universities of Oxford and Cambridge.
  • We were rated in the top 5 in Allied Health Professions, Dentistry, Nursing and Pharmacy, ahead of most of the Russell Group.
  • Aston Business School was rated 17th out of 101 institutions in terms of 3* and 4* impact.
  • We rank in the top 20 for 3* and 4* rated impact, ahead of Birmingham, Warwick and many of our competitors.