Research Excellence Framework 2029

The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is the evaluation system for assessing research in UK Higher Education institutions (HEIs). It was first conducted in 2014 and again in 2021. The REF is undertaken by a dedicated team on behalf of the four UK higher education funding bodies: Research England, the Scottish Funding Council, the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, and the Department for the Economy, Northern Ireland.

REF outcomes inform the allocation of around £2bn of block-grant research funding to HEIs each year.

The last REF took place in 2021 (with outcomes published in May 2022). For REF21Politics & IR was one of 34 ‘Units of Assessment’. The next REF was originally intended to take place in 2028. Following an announcement in December 2023, this date has now been put back to 2029. Planning for REF 2029 is now underway.


About REF2029

In June 2023, the REF team announced its high-level design for this next exercise. This included important changes to the model employed for REF2021

1. Composition of those included in a Unit of Assessment 

REF 2029 will break from the identification of research outputs with individual researchers submitted to the exercise within their Units of Research. Instead a volume measure of all researchers and research-enabling staff with significant responsibility for research will be calculated as the average FTE within the Unit for eligible staff. Units will be required to submit 2.5x outputs for every 1.0 FTE of volume-contributing staff. There will be no minimum or maximum contribution from any individual within the Unit.

2. Redesign and re-weighting of the elements of assessment, as follows 

  • People, Culture and Environment (25% weighting), replacing the environment element of REF 2014 and 2021, and will be expanded to include an assessment of research culture. 

  • Contribution to knowledge and understanding(50% weighting), broadening the ‘outputs’ element of REF 2014 and 2021. Assessment will continue to be largely based on submitted outputs, but at least 10% of the profile will be based on evidence of broader contributions to discipline. 

  • Engagement and impact(25% weighting), replacing the ‘impact’ elements of REF 2014 and 2021, and combining both impact case studies and an accompanying statement on engagement activity beyond case studies.


Planning for REF 2029: responding to the Future Research Assessment Programme (FRAP) 

Our REF response is being led by PSA Vice-President Professor Matt Flinders who set out his thoughts and analysis in these blogs: 

In June 2023, the REF team invited responses to its high-level design for the next assessment exercise. This design and review phase is the Future Research Assessment Programme, known as FRAP. Responses were invited to specific questions on aspects of the design, while noting that many aspects of REF 2029 (including those set out above) were not open for discussion. 

In October 2023, the Political Studies Association issued its response: HERE


Initial update on the outcomes from the consultation (published December 2023)

On 7 December the REF team issued a first update on its decisions after the Summer 2023 consultation exercise. In addition to postponing the date of the next REF to 2029, this update noted the following: 

  • HESA data will be used to determine Volume Measure in the manner set out in the recent consultation exercise 

  • Breaking the link between individual staff member and unit submission, including removing minimum and maximum outputs submitted by specific individuals, will go ahead 

  • Further guidance will be issued on the ‘demonstrable and substantive link’ between an eligible output and the submitting institution within the REF period 

  • Outputs sole-authored by PGR students, including PhD theses, will not be eligible for submission, nor will those produced by individuals employed on contracts with no research-related expectations 

  • The overall Unit of Assessment structure for REF 2029 will remain unchanged from REF 2021 

  • The minimum number of Impact Case Studies that an institution can submit per disciplinary submission will be reduced to one, with the removal of the 2* quality threshold.  


Consultation on Open Access requirements for REF2029 (March 2024) 

On 18 March 2024, the four UK higher education funding bodies opened a consultation concerning the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2029 Open Access Policy. The purpose of the REF 2029 Open Access Policy is to outline open access requirements for the exercise. 

The ‘policy aims to embed progress in the sector for open access submission for journal publications. It also introduces an open access requirement for longform publications.’ The consultation sought ‘to gather a deeper understanding of sector perspectives on key issues and impacts in relation to our policy proposals.’ 

We will shortly publish the PSA’s consultation response and also the one made by the Academy of Social Sciences which we also contributed to 


Current timetable for REF2029 (and subject to change) 

  • Summer 2024: Invite nominations for panel members; Appoint panels 

  • Summer 2024: Publish open access requirements; Panels meet to develop criteria 

  • Summer to Autumn 2024: Publish draft guidance, and consultation on panel criteria 

  • Winter 2024: Publish final guidance and criteria 

  • 2025: Complete preparation of submission systems 

  • Autumn 2028: Submission phase 

  • 2029: Assessment phase 


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