Assessment criteria are one of the most important features of the REF. Research submissions are evaluated according to three specific criteria: Outputs, Impact and Environment. These are then combined to provide an Overall result for each department’s REF score.
Output is the simplest of the three assessment criteria. It measures the quality of academic work produced by a university’s researchers. Up to four research Outputs can be nominated for each academic whose research a university submits to the REF.
Examples of Output include publications like journal articles and book-length studies, as well as other fruits of academic research such as important data sets, new technologies and intellectual property.
Why does Output matter to PhD students?
A university’s Output score for a specific subject area can tell you how successful its academics are at generating high-quality publications. This might offer an indicator of the potential for you to take part in cutting-edge research projects (and the publications they can generate). A high Output score may also mean that your PhD will be supervised by academics who are recognised leaders in their fields.
Impact assesses the positive effects of a university’s research beyond the academy. Impact is assessed using submitted case studies that demonstrate the past effects of a university’s research as well as strategies for ensuring present and future impact.
The REF defines impact as consisting of ‘any effect on, change or benefit to the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment, or quality of life, beyond academia’. It’s worth noting that Impact applies to all academic disciplines and subject areas.
For example, medical science research might generate important changes to public health policy, whilst research in an arts and humanities subject area might have an impact on educational outreach and or underpin important exhibitions in public libraries and galleries.
Why does Impact matter to PhD students?
A university’s past success in demonstrating the impact of its research can indicate the opportunity for PhD students to take part in high profile projects and activities outside the university and to do work that is of an immediate and appreciable benefit to society as a whole. As well as being immensely rewarding, this will look excellent on your CV, whatever career path you pursue with your PhD.
Environment is arguably the most important REF assessment criteria from the point of view of prospective research students. It measures the quality of the departments, academic units and research groups in which a university’s research is produced – the ‘environment’ in which you will work as a PhD student.
The quality of a university’s research Environment is assessed based on a range of factors. Of particular importance is evidence demonstrating the ‘sustainability’ and ‘vitality’ of research environments. This can take account of the continuity of research funding as well as the structures in place for the effective support, supervision and training of PhD students.
Why does Environment matter to PhD students?
Of all the REF assessment criteria, Environment is the most directly relevant to prospective PhD students. A university department with a high Environment score will be effectively-organised and sustainably-funded. It is also likely to have a proven track record of supporting postgraduate research projects and good strategies in place to ensure a positive and successful experience for future PhD students… like you!