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What is REF?

The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is the system run by the UK higher education funding bodies to assess the quality of research taking place in UK higher education institutions. It first took place in 2014, replacing the previous Research Assessment Exercises, and the current REF submission deadline was November 2020, but has been extended to 31 March 2021 to take account of the disruption caused by Covid-19.

The REF is intended to:

  • provide accountability for public investment in research, and evidence of the benefits of that investment
  • provide benchmarking information for use the HE sector and for public information
  • inform the allocation of 'quality-related' (QR) funding for research.

The REF assesses the quality of an institution’s research outputs, impacts and environment by a process of peer review, carried out by expert disciplinary panels made up of senior academics, international representatives, and research users from business, industry and the public and third sectors. Research outputs, impacts and environment are graded from 4* (‘world-leading’) to 1* (‘recognised nationally’).

REF 2021

The RCA submitted 100 per cent of its staff to REF2021, a total of 174 members of staff and some 300 outputs, of which many were practice-based outputs (exhibitions, artefacts, installations) presented in the form of a portfolio, while others were books, book chapters and journal articles.  Nine impact case studies were submitted, demonstrating the breadth and range as well as the impact of RCA research.  

The impact case studies included fine art and curating projects (Kennard, Shani, Watson), inclusive design projects with commercial, social and healthcare impacts (Myerson, West and the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design), design-led citizen science promoting public engagement with bio-diversity (Phillips), typographic design for widening access to Indic texts (Ramanathan) and design and communication influence on the work of a global company (Hall, Simmons, Triggs).    

Our REF environment statement illustrated the growth and success of research at the RCA since the previous REF exercise, reporting an increase in research income (from £8.7m to £20.5m over the current REF period), an increase in staff submitted to the REF from 95 to 174, and an increase in doctoral degrees awarded from 57 to 170.

The UK higher education funding bodies are expected to publish the outcomes of the REF in April 2022;  these will then inform the allocation of quality-related (QR) research funding to institutions for the following several years.More information about the RCA's preparations for REF2021 can be found in the College’s Code of Practice on the Selection of Staff for REF2021, which sets out the steps the RCA will take to ensure that fairness, transparency, equality and diversity are at the heart both of the way we deliver our strategic objectives for research and knowledge exchange, and of the way we prepare our submission for REF2021.

The Research & Knowledge Exchange Office oversees the RCA’s REF preparation and submission, working with the College’s REF Strategy Group.

RCA REF Strategy Group

The REF Strategy Group is chaired by the Director of Research & Innovation and is a sub-group of the Research, Knowledge Exchange and Innovation (RKEI) Strategy Committee. The REF Strategy Group is tasked with agreeing the RCA’s REF2021 strategy, developing and approving RCA REF2021 guidance materials (such as the Code of Practice), monitoring the RCA’s REF2021 preparations, and overseeing the RCA’s REF2021 submission.

REF 2014 results

In REF2014, the RCA was assessed as the highest ranking UK specialist art and design institution in terms of 4* research overall, at 37 per cent.

A further 40 per cent of Royal College of Art research was rated as 3*, meaning that in total, 77 per cent of the College’s research was assessed as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’. This represents a 12 point increase on the College’s RAE 2008 results.

The RCA submitted 95 staff to REF2014, 65% of the REF-eligible staff. This was the highest proportion of staff submitted by any UK art and design unit or institution, and reflects the research-intensive nature of the RCA. We submitted 7 impact case studies, on topics ranging from photography and the representation of conflict to design for patient safety.

View our REF 2014 impact case studies

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