REF 2028

Decisions on the high-level design of the next Research Excellence Framework (REF 2028) were published on 15 June 2023.

Several changes have been made to the framework compared to REF 2021, and the emphasis of the assessment will shift from an individual to an institutional and disciplinary level. Some elements of the REF 2028 framework are subject to consultation; further decisions on REF 2028 are expected in Spring 2024.

The Research Services REF team can support queries, clarifications and briefing requests.

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The design of REF 2028 has been developed through the Future Research Assessment Programme (FRAP), commissioned by the UK funding bodies. The FRAP was tasked to identify approaches to research assessment that encourage and strengthen the emphasis on delivering excellent research and impact, support a positive, productive research culture, while simplifying and reducing the administrative burden on the HE sector. The FRAP has developed its conclusions with input from an international advisory board, consultation with the REF 2021 panels, evaluation activities (including the real time REF review, which sought to capture how researchers experience the exercise) and equality impact assessment. 

Through this work, the REF funding bodies have agreed that REF 2028 should fulfil the following core purposes:

  • Inform the allocation of block-grant research funding to HEIs based on research quality;
  • Provide accountability for public investment in research and produce evidence of the benefits of this investment; and
  • Provide insights into the health of research in HEIs in the UK.

The announced changes are intended to create an assessment exercise that will underpin:

  • A research system that produces high-quality, rigorous research that is open to all;
  • An inclusive and collaborative research system that supports a diversity of people, ideas, institutions, methodologies, outputs, and activities; and
  • An engaged and impactful research system that connects research with wider society to bring about positive socio-economic change.

In REF 2028 the three assessed elements have been reshaped, with the intention of supporting a broader assessment of excellence. The weightings of the elements have been rebalanced to increase the emphasis on research culture, people and environment. The new elements will be:

  • Contribution to Knowledge and Understanding (50%)
  • Engagement and Impact (25%)
  • People, Culture and Environment (25%)

The disciplinary structure (Units of Assessment, or UOAs) are proposed to be the same as for REF 2021.



Submission component

Contribution to element

Overall contribution

Contribution to knowledge and understanding



at most 90%


Disciplinary-level statement

at least 10%


Engagement and Impact


Impact case studies

80% for units >40FTE


Disciplinary-level statement

20% for units >40FTE


People, culture and environment


Disciplinary-level statement

at most 80%


Institutional-level statement

at least 20%



There will be no staff submission to REF 2028 and no single census date; instead, the staff volume (expressed as staff FTE) will be calculated as an average of the total staff FTE identified as meeting the criteria for eligible staff with significant responsibility for research within a given UOA over multiple years. Staff volume will determine the number of outputs and impact case studies required. From academic year 24/25, institutions that intend to make a submission to REF 2028 will be required to complete REF-related fields in the HESA staff return, including UOA assignment. The HESA staff return data in academic years 25/26 and 26/27 will determine the volume for REF 2028. The REF Funding Bodies’ staff eligibility criteria will be consistent with those for REF 2021, although submitting institutions may update their Code of Practice for determining who is an independent researcher and identifying staff with significant responsibility for research.

Output decoupling

REF 2028 will fully break the link between individual staff members and submitted outputs. Outputs will not be attributed to staff and there will be no minimum or maximum number of outputs that can be associated with any staff member. The initial decisions publication states “Outputs will be considered eligible, where there is a demonstrable and substantive link to the submitting institution within the REF assessment period. This includes outputs produced by anyone employed by the institution on a minimum 0.2 FTE contract for at least 6 months in the REF assessment period.” Consultation responses are requested on appropriate indicators of a demonstrable and substantive link to the submitting institution. As in REF 2021, the number of outputs required will be 2.5 x staff volume FTE.

As a consequence of the removal of output attribution, no individual staff circumstances processes are proposed for REF 2028.

Additional narrative elements

The disciplinary-level statement contributes ca 30% in total to the overall assessment, and the institutional-level statement will also be separately assessed, contributing at least 5% to the overall assessment. Overall these changes increase the emphasis on research culture and support for people within the assessment.

Engagement and Impact assessment

Generally, fewer impact case studies will be required than was the case for REF 2021 (0-3 fewer impact case studies per submission), and the disciplinary-level statement on engagement and impact has an increased weighting within the assessment for small units with a volume less than 40 FTE, to the extent that for small units (<10 FTE) only one impact case study will be required, making up 50% of this element. It is proposed to remove the requirement for case studies to draw on underpinning research of at least 2* quality. The funding bodies will ask the panels to consider developing and operationalising an additional ‘rigour’ criterion, to reflect the importance of the process of engagement as well as the outcome.

The REF funding bodies invited consultation responses on the following topics:

  1. Practical challenges in implementation of the new approach to volume
  2. Consequences of output decoupling, and indicators for demonstrating a substantive link between outputs and the submitting institution
  3. Any necessary changes to UOA structure
  4. Reduction in the number of impact case studies required
  5. Effect of proposals on staff with protected characteristics
  6. Requirements for Covid mitigations.

More details are available on the consultation website.

This consultation closed on 6th October.

The four UK higher education funding bodies have invited further written comments on the assessment of people, culture and environment in REF 2028 by 1st December 2023.

Key Guidance Documents

REF 2028 Initial Decisions

Internal Guidance