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Research Excellence Framework

HEFCE is working to develop new arrangements for the assessment and funding of research. The new arrangements - the Research Excellence Framework (REF) - will be introduced after the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise (RAE).

The REF will consist of a single unified framework for the funding and assessment of research across all subjects. It will make greater use of quantitative indicators in the assessment of research quality than the present system, while taking account of key differences between the different disciplines. Assessment will combine quantitative indicators - including bibliometric indicators wherever these are appropriate - and light-touch expert review. Which of these elements are employed, and the balance between them, will vary as appropriate to each subject.

Current developments

We recently published an overview of our work to date and our plans for the framework's further development in Circular letter 34/2008 'Update on the Research Excellence Framework'. This includes:

  • an update on the bibliometrics pilot exercise
  • the establishment of expert advisory groups (These groups will meet throughout the first half of 2009 to advise us as we develop detailed proposals for all key features of the REF. Their membership is largely drawn from chairs and members of RAE 2008 panels as well as nominations from the Research Councils, research users and other stakeholders. More information on the membership and role of these groups will be added shortly.)
  • initial work to explore how the REF should take account of research that is valued by users
  • our approach to reviewing elements of the RAE to inform the transition from the RAE to the REF.

Development work will continue throughout the first half of 2009, and we will publish proposals on all the key features of the REF for consultation with the sector in autumn 2009.


Consultation on initial proposals for the REF

During November 2007 we published initial proposals for the REF for consultation (HEFCE 2007/34). These were informed by two research and evaluation reports on the use of bibliometric techniques:

Following the end of the consultation period, we published an analysis of responses to the consultation, and announced the outcomes in Circular letter 13/2008.

In the light of the feedback received two significant modifications to the proposals were made. These were agreed following discussion with the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS). The modifications were:

  • the timetable for designing the new framework was extended by 12 months to allow sufficient time for development
  • there will no longer be such a clear distinction between the arrangements for science-based subjects and those for all other subjects; for all subjects the assessment will include some combination of metrics-based indicators, including bibliometrics where appropriate, as well as input from expert panels.

The details of the modifications are contained in the following correspondence from March 2008:


The Government announced in March 2006 its intention to replace the RAE after 2008 with an assessment system based on metrics. A working group, whose members included representatives of the four UK higher education funding bodies and a number of government departments, then developed a consultation ('Reform of higher education research assessment and funding').

In parallel to this, the Chief Executives of the Arts and Humanities Research Council and HEFCE established an expert group to advise on the use of research metrics in the arts and humanities in particular. The group's final report was published in October 2006.

Following the consultation during 2006, the Government announced in the 2006 pre-Budget Report the development of a revised scheme for assessment of quality and allocation of funding. The Department for Education and Skills outlined details of the scheme in a press release. A letter from the Secretary of State gave further guidance to HEFCE.

We set out our initial plans for the development of the new system in 'Future framework for research assessment and funding' (HEFCE Circular letter 06/2007).

Further information

To receive news and updates on the REF, please join our REF-NEWS mailing list.

Queries about the REF should be sent to

Last updated 29 November 2008