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What is the REF?

The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is the UK’s system for assessing the excellence of research in higher education institutions. The REF outcomes are used to inform the allocation of around £2 billion per year of public funding for universities’ research. The next REF will be undertaken in 2021 by the four UK higher education funding bodies.

What role do research users play?

‘Research users’ are people outside of academia in the private, public or third sectors, who make use of university research in their organisation or professional activity (by commissioning research or collaborating with academic researchers, for example).

Research users play a key role on the REF’s expert panels, sitting alongside senior academics. The expert panels assess submissions, including the quality of research and its wider impact beyond academia. 

Research users’ expertise and their experience of working with research and researchers play a vital role in the REF. As panel members they ensure that the assessment criteria enable the REF to capture effectively the wider impact of UK research. They work closely with academic panel members and other research users to evaluate the reach and significance of research impacts beyond academia. 

What are the benefits for research users of taking part?

Over 250 research users participated in the expert panels in REF 2014. According to their feedback, the REF gave them:

  • Insight into current developments in research relevant to their professional lives
  • Excellent networking opportunities with research leaders and senior professionals in private, public or third sectors
  • An enhanced appreciation of the connections that can be made between researchers and stakeholders
  • Increased understanding of the potential barriers to engagement with researchers and how to overcome them
  • Opportunities to encourage better understanding of organisations’ research needs
  • A chance to contribute to the allocation of public funds. 

Research users interested in participating in REF 2021 can Download the Guide to REF 2021 for research users as PDF (693 KB)