REF 2021: Times Higher Education’s table methodology

How we analyse the results of the Research Excellence Framework

May 12, 2022

The data published today by the four UK funding bodies present the proportion of each institution’s Research Excellence Framework submission, in each unit of assessment, that falls into each of five quality categories.

For output and overall profiles, these are 4* (world-leading), 3* (internationally excellent), 2* (internationally recognised), 1* (nationally recognised) and unclassified (below nationally recognised or fails to meet the definition of research).

For impact, they are 4* (outstanding in terms of reach and significance), 3* (very considerable), 2* (considerable), 1* (recognised but modest) and unclassified (little or no reach or significance).

For environment, they are 4* (“conducive to producing research of world-leading quality and enabling outstanding impact, in terms of its vitality and sustainability”), 3* (internationally excellent research/very considerable impact), 2* (internationally recognised research/considerable impact), 1* (nationally recognised research/recognised but modest impact) and unclassified (“not conducive to producing research of nationally recognised quality or enabling impact of reach and significance”).

For the overall institutional table, Times Higher Education aggregates these profiles into a single institutional quality profile based on the number of full-time equivalent staff submitted to each unit of assessment. This reflects the view that larger departments should count for more in calculating an institution’s overall quality.

Institutions are, by default, ranked according to the grade point average (GPA) of their overall quality profiles. GPA is calculated by multiplying its percentage of 4* research by 4, its percentage of 3* research by 3, its percentage of 2* research by 2 and its percentage of 1* research by 1; those figures are added together and then divided by 100 to give a score between 0 and 4.

We also present research power scores. These are calculated by multiplying the institution’s GPA by the total number of full-time equivalent staff submitted, and then scaling that figure such that the highest score in the ranking is 1,000. This is an attempt to produce an easily comparable score that takes into account volume as well as GPA, reflecting the view that excellence is, to some extent, a function of scale as well as quality. Research power also gives a closer indication of the relative size of the research block grant that each institution is likely to receive on the basis of the REF results.

However, block grants are actually calculated according to funding formulas that currently take no account of any research rated 2* or below. The formula is slightly different in Scotland, but in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the “quality-related” (QR) funding formula also accords 4* research four times the weighting of 3* research. Hence, we also offer a market share metric. This is calculated by using these quality weightings, along with submitted FTEs, to produce a “quality-related volume” score; each institution’s market share is the proportion of all UK quality-related volume accounted for by that institution.

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The 2014 figures are largely taken from THE’s published rankings for that year – although research power figures have been retrospectively indexed.

Note that a small number of institutions may have absorbed other institutions since 2014. In these cases, rather than attempting to calculate a 2014 combined score for the merged institutions, we list only the main institution’s 2014 score.

We exclude from the main tables specialist institutions that entered only one unit of assessment (UoA); these are listed instead in the relevant unit of assessment table.

Note that the figure for number of UoAs entered by an institution counts multiple submissions to the same unit of assessment separately.

For data on the share of eligible staff submitted, note that some institutions have a figure greater than 100 per cent. According to the UK funding bodies, this is due to some research staff not being registered in official statistics due to internal employment structures at certain institutions. 

The separate tables for outputs, impact and environment are constructed in a similar way, but they take account solely of each institution’s quality profiles for that specific element of the REF; this year, those elements account for 60, 25 and 15 per cent of the main score, respectively. These tables exclude a market share measure.

The subject tables rank institutional submissions to each of the 34 units of assessment based on the GPA of the institution’s overall quality profiles in that unit of assessment, as well as its research power. GPAs for output, impact and environment are also provided.

Where a university submitted fewer than four people to a UoA, the funding bodies suppress its quality profiles for impact, environment and outputs, so it is not possible to calculate a GPA. This is indicated in the table by a dash.

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As before, 2014 scores for the subject tables are taken from THE’s 2014 scores. However, there are a small number of cases where UoAs from 2014 have merged or split in 2021. Whereas there were four separate UoAs for engineering in 2014, there is only one in 2021. For reasons of comparability, we list 2014 scores for the engineering table based on the combined scores of the engineering UoAs in 2014, weighted according to the FTE submitted to each.

Contrariwise, while geography, environmental studies and archaeology was a single UoA in 2014, archaeology is a separate UoA in 2021. Since it is not possible to separate out archaeology scores from 2014, the 2014 scores listed for both the archaeology UoA and the geography and environmental studies UoA are the same.

Where an institution did not submit to the relevant unit of assessment in 2014, the relevant fields are marked “n/a”. Where an institution made multiple submissions to a UoA in 2014 and only one in 2021, the 2014 fields are also marked "n/a". 

In some UoAs, single institutions have made multiple submissions. These are listed separately and are distinguished by a letter: eg, “University of Applemouth A: Nursing” and “University of Applemouth B: Pharmacy”.

Where two universities have made joint submissions, these are listed on separate lines and indicated accordingly: eg, “University of Applemouth (joint submission with University of Dayby)”. By default, the institution with the higher research power is listed first.

On the landing page for each subject table, we also give GPA and FTE submission figures for the UoA as a whole, based on the “national profile” provided by the funding bodies.

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