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What is the REF?

The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is the UK’s world-leading system for assessing the excellence of research in higher education institutions. The REF outcomes are used to calculate about £2 billion per year of public funding for universities’ research, and affect their international reputations. The results also inform strategic decisions about national research priorities. The next REF will be undertaken in 2021 by the four UK higher education funding bodies.

What role do impact assessors play?

To ensure they have the full breadth and depth of expertise required to assess the submitted case studies, the REF panels will appoint ‘impact assessors’ who will work with the other panel members to assess the impact element of submissions, attending relevant panel meetings and providing advice on the impact case studies they have assessed. Impact assessors are individuals from outside academia with relevant skills and experience in using research.

With their experience of working with research and researchers, research users play a vital role in the REF; working with panels to evaluate the reach and significance of research impacts beyond academia. In the 2014 REF, these roles were highly valued by the UK’s research community and their contribution was described as ‘hugely beneficial’ and ‘invaluable to the process’.

What are the benefits for research users of taking part?

Over 250 research users, including impact assessors, participated in the expert panels in REF 2014. They enjoyed bringing their professional perspectives to the assessment and appreciated the opportunity to contribute to a crucial part of the UK’s research funding landscape. 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 below.