Impact for REF

‌Impact in the REF‌

The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is the current system for assessing the quality of research in UK higher education institutions.

REF2014 assessed the impact of research for the first time. Impact remained a key element of the REF in 2021, with its overall weighting raised to 25% of the total (compared with 20% in 2014). Impact was assessed through case studies at Unit of Assessment level in both 2014 and 2021.


The REF definition of impact

For REF2021 and REF2014, HEFCE defined impact as:

"An effect on, change or benefit to the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life, beyond academia."

Impact includes, but is not limited to:

  • An effect on, change or benefit to
  • the activity, attitude, awareness, behaviour, capacity, opportunity, performance, policy, practice, process or understanding
  • of an audience, beneficiary, community, constituency, organisation or individuals
  • in any geographic location whether locally, regionally, nationally or internationally.

Impact also includes the reduction or prevention of harm, risk, cost or other negative effects.

REF impact excludes academic impact, and is specifically defined as impact outside academia.  


REF timelines

Looking to the future

The impact period for the next REF started on 1 January 2021; impacts that occurred from this date onwards will be eligible for inclusion in impact case studies. It will be some time before further timings for the next REF are known, and they will be added here once they are available.


Submission for REF2021 was delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic. The original deadline of midday, Friday 27 November 2020 was pushed back to 31 March 2021.

  • Impact for REF2021 case studies had to have occurred during the period 1 August 2013 to 31 December 2020
  • The research underpinning the impact must have been undertaken at York during the period 1 January 2000 to 31 December 2020

The results of REF2021 were published on 12 May 2022 and can be viewed on the REF2021 website.


For REF2014 submission was in 2013.

  • Impact had to have occurred during the period 1 January 2008 to 31 July 2013
  • The research underpinning the impact had to have been completed at York during the period 1 January 1993 to 31 December 2013

For more general information about REF please see the University's central REF pages.

Impact case studies

Impact case studies

REF2021 and REF2014 assessed using case studies at Unit of Assessment level. 

In 2021, Impact case studies were five-page documents including:

  • a summary of the impact
  • a description of the underpinning research
  • evidence of the quality of the underpinning research (at least 2*)
  • a description of the impact, explaining how it was underpinned by York research
  • evidence of the impact

Top tips

Some things worth knowing about impact case studies:

  • A clear link to underpinning research is key. Research needs to have been conducted at the University of York in the eligible period.
  • Activities are not impact. Weaker case studies tend to focus on what the academics did; stronger case studies focus on what changed for other people beyond academia.
  • Evidence is crucial. Claims about impact need to be backed up by evidence.

For REF2021, Research England allowed a broader definition of underpinning research, to allow impact case studies to be rooted in a body of expertise rather than a specific research project or publication. Nontheless, a clearly defined link to excellent research undertaken at York was still crucial. This research had to make "a distinct and material contribution" to the impact claimed.


All publicly available REF2021 impact case studies are available in an online searchable database. This provides a wealth of examples of how universities across all disciplines are working with non-academic partners.

The REF2014 impact case studies are also available in a searchable database

Some examples of top-scoring impact case studies from REF 2021 and REF2014 are available here.

The University's central impact pages provide further guidance on gathering evidence of impact.


REF impact criteria

Impact in REF2021 and REF2014 was assessed according to reach and significance, broadly summarised as:

  • Reach - the extent and/or diversity of the beneficiaries (how widely the impact was felt)
  • Significance - the degree of change (how much difference the impact made to beneficiaries)

Reach and significance are considered as a whole, rather than separately, for the purposes of assessment.

Impact case studies are scored on a scale from 4* (highest) to unclassified.

The starred levels were defined in 2021 and 2014 as follows:

  • 4* - Outstanding impacts in terms of their reach and significance.
  • 3* - Very considerable impacts in terms of their reach and significance.
  • 2* - Considerable impacts in terms of their reach and significance.
  • 1* - Recognised but modest impacts in terms of their reach and significance.
  • Unclassified - The impact is of little or no reach and significance; or the impact was not eligible; or the impact was not underpinned by excellent research produced by the submitted unit.

For more information on impact case studies please see the tab on impact case studies.


Evidence of impact for REF

REF impact case studies require evidence to support the impact claimed.

'Evidence' can include testimonials, citations in documents or the media, reactions on social media, numbers and reactions of people visiting a website or attending public engagement events.

The Faculty Impact Administrator, Joel Baker, provides support with planning evaluation and gathering evidence of impact. Contact him on, and he will be happy to help!

Gathering evidence

It is much harder (and sometimes impossible) to collect evidence of impact several years after the event, especially for transient evidence such as social media and web interactions, or reactions to public engagement events.

Collect and store evidence of impact as you go along:

  • Plan evaluation of public engagement in advance of activities - see the University's Toolkit on Evaluating Public Engagement for tips.
  • Take snapshots of important websites.
  • Ask collaborators for written feedback and testimonials at the time (where appropriate).

The University's central impact pages provide further guidance on gathering evidence of impact.

For more information including resources to help with the next REF please see the central REF impact pages.

Contact us

Helen Jones
Faculty Impact Manager

Natalie Fullwood
Faculty Impact Manager

Lucy Cheseldine
Faculty Impact Administrator