The Research Excellence Framework (REF) at Aston

About REF

The REF is the UK’s system for assessing the quality of research in UK higher education institutions. It first took place in 2014. The next exercise will be conducted in 2021.

What is the purpose of the REF?

The funding bodies’ shared policy aim for research assessment is to secure the continuation of a world-class, dynamic and responsive research base across the full academic spectrum within UK higher education. We expect that this will be achieved through the threefold purpose of the REF:

  • To provide accountability for public investment in research and produce evidence of the benefits of this investment.
  • To provide benchmarking information and establish reputational yardsticks, for use within the HE sector and for public information.
  • To inform the selective allocation of funding for research. 

For more information about the REF, visit their website: 

Aston’s performance in REF 2014
  • 78% of research outputs were evaluated as 'world leading' or 'internationally recognised', up from 45% in RAE 2008.
  • In Allied Health Professions, Dentistry, Nursing and Pharmacy, 94% of our research was judged to be World Leading or Internationally Excellent (4*/3*).
  • In three Units of Assessment (Computer Science and Informatics, Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Metallurgy and Materials, and Business and Management Studies) all of our impact case studies were rated 4* or 3*.
  • In the seven Units of Assessment where Aston submitted a return, 88.7% of Aston's research was found to have high levels of impact.
  • In three Units of Assessment (Allied Health Professions, Dentistry, Nursing and Pharmacy; Business and Management Studies Modern Languages and Linguistics) Aston was recognised as a great place for researchers, with the vitality and sustainability of our research environment rated 4* and 3*.

How we compare

  • In Area Studies we were rated in the top 3 in the UK – ahead of the universities of Oxford and Cambridge.
  • We were rated in the top 5 in Allied Health Professions, Dentistry, Nursing and Pharmacy, ahead of most of the Russell Group.
  • Aston Business School was rated 17th out of 101 institutions in terms of 3* and 4* impact.
  • We rank in the top 20 for 3* and 4* rated impact, ahead of Birmingham, Warwick and many of our competitors.
Preparations for REF 2021

The University’s preparations for REF 2021 are well underway, with the staff census date on 31 July 2020 and the deadline for submission on 27 November 2020. Between October and December 2019, our priorities are:

  • Starting the process to determine research independence of our research-only staff.
  • Inviting colleagues to declare individual circumstances (see below for more details).
  • Preparation of the Survey of Submission Intentions for Research England (Research England deadline December 2019) setting out information about the staff, outputs and impact case studies that we are likely to return to REF2021.
  • Completion of the 2019 outputs review, including a first iteration of outputs selected for return and the associated Equality Impact Assessment.
  • Continued work on our impact case studies including gathering evidence and drafting.
  • Drafting of our REF environment statements at institutional and unit of assessment level.
  • Complete reviews of each unit of assessment return.
REF code of practice and invitation to declare individual circumstances

Aston University REF2021 Code of Practice

Declaration of Individual Staff Circumstances Form and Privacy Notice

In September 2019, we resubmitted our REF code of practice having made the minor amendments requested by Research England. One of the key processes defined in the Code relates to the Declaration of Individual Circumstances, and in October all Category A staff (those with Significant Responsibility for Research who will be returned to the REF) will receive an invitation to declare any equality-related circumstances that have affected their ability to research productively or publish outputs during the REF period (January 2014 to November 2020). There are three opportunities for colleagues to submit their declarations, with deadlines on 4 November 2019; 13 January 2020 and finally 4 May 2020 (for colleagues joining Aston after January 2020). Please look out for this email – it will come from This is the specific email address which we will be using to manage the Declaration of Individual Circumstances process.

Information provided in a Declaration will be used by the Individual Circumstances Group to decide whether an adjustment should be made in expectations of an individual’s contribution to the unit output pool. These decisions will be made using the tariffs set out in Annex L of the REF Guidance on Submissions (see Annex 8 of the Aston REF Code of Practice). In addition to individual adjustments, where, the cumulative effect of circumstances disproportionately affects a Unit of Assessment’s potential output pool, universities may request a reduction (without penalty) in the total number of outputs required for a submission (Research England deadline 6 March 2020). 

Information about making a declaration of individual circumstances

Full information about individual circumstances, the declaration process and the appeals process are set out in the Aston REF Code of Practice (pages 18-23); the declaration form is provided above. Having considered this information, any individuals who would like to discuss their options for making a declaration, should contact in the first instance.

Importantly, the decision to declare individual circumstances rests with individual members of staff, with declarations being submitted using a Declaration of Individual Circumstances Form to In line with REF guidelines, we will not take into account any individual circumstances other than those that are declared voluntarily through this process. There is no requirement to declare individual circumstances should individuals not wish to do so, and there will be no detriment to staff if they wish to declare an individual circumstance. The Individual Circumstances Process will be operated consistently across the University; it is being managed through the central RKE office and the Individual Circumstances Group will assess and implement the Individual Circumstances Process. All information will be stored securely online and in hard copy.

Our Research Impact Case Studies

Addressing real world problems and providing practical answers means our research is used by organisations, policymakers and stakeholders to make a positive impact beyond academia, for example on society, culture, public policy, or services, health and the environment. Examples of the ways in which we have worked with our collaborators to deliver research with impact may be found by following the below link.

Learn More
Research impact and business at Aston University
Research impact and business at Aston University