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Research Excellence Framework (REF)

Highlights of REF 2021


Increase in impact of our research


Increase in quality of research outputs


Increase in range of disciplines submitted

The growth of research at Middlesex

REF 2021 shows that we have strong foundations on which to build as we make high quality, impactful research a shared priority for our community.

Since REF 2014 our research has grown in overall quality of outputs and impact and in the range of subjects covered.

We achieved our results while balancing resources across all three areas of academic excellence – research and knowledge exchange, education and engagement.

Our global impact

100% of the work submitted for five disciplines had outstanding (4-star) or very considerable (3-star) impact, aligned to three strategic themes in our Strategy for 2031.

Equity and Improvements in Health and Wellbeing – Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience; Sport and Exercise Sciences, Leisure and Tourism

Sustainability of Communities and the Environment – Geography and Environmental Studies; Business and Management Studies

Inclusive Socio-economic Development and Enriching Lives through Culture – Art and Design: History, Practice and Theory

Our future outlook

As a community, our collaborative, creative and inclusive approach is helping to shape the future of research. We promote excellence in research and knowledge exchange by:

  • Designing for regional and global impact that addresses future challenges
  • Working with national and international partners, global industry and public services
  • Building research projects from the ground up, working inclusively and innovatively with communities
  • Working as learning organisation in dialogue with partners, collaborators, sponsors and beneficiaries.
  • REF 2021

    • What is the REF?

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

      The REF was first carried out in 2014, replacing the previous Research Assessment Exercise. The most recent REF exercise was conducted in 2021, with the results announced in May 2022.

      The REF is jointly undertaken by the four UK higher education funding bodies: Research England, the Scottish Funding Council (SFC), the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW), and the Department for the Economy, Northern Ireland (DfE). It is managed by the REF team, based at Research England, and a steering group from the four funding bodies.

      The results of REF 2021 have reported on the quality of our research and will inform the selective allocation of funding for research. Middlesex University has entered all eligible staff to REF 2021, in line with our commitment to an inclusive research environment and building on the success and strengths of our REF 2014 submission.

      What is the REF's purpose?

      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. They 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.

      How is the REF carried out?

      The REF is a process of expert review, carried out by expert panels for each of the 34 units of assessment (UoAs), under the guidance of four main panels. Each UoA covers a subject area and may span more than one discipline. Expert panels are made up of senior academics, international members, and research users.

      For each submission, three distinct elements are assessed: the quality of outputs (e.g. publications, performances, and exhibitions), their impact beyond academia, and the environment that supports research.

    • REF Code of Practice

      Our REF Code of Practice (COP) sets out our decision-making processes for the fair, open and transparent selection of staff and associated outputs in the context of the principles of equality and diversity, and all relevant legislation. Our COP also shows how all staff employed on academic contracts (teaching and research route, Senior Manager Academic or research only) on the REF census date (31 July 2020) who satisfied  the REF 2021 criteria for inclusion have been submitted.

      See REF 2021 Guidance on codes of practice

    • How we planned for REF 2021

      We appointed Unit of Assessment (UoA) coordinators across the University, and the work of preparing our submission was carried out by inclusive University Panels, Faculty Committees, and UoA Working Groups.

      Equality, diversity and inclusion

      Equality, diversity and inclusion is at the heart of everything we do at Middlesex – including the conduct of our research – and the University has sought to ensure that characteristics of our REF 2021 submission and overall academic staffing profile reflect this.

      As we prepared for REF 2021 we established a University REF Equality and Diversity Panel, chaired by the Pro Vice-Chancellor (Diversity), whose considerations follow University policy closely. All staff involved in REF committees, panels and working groups have completed mandatory training in equality, as well as further training for the purposes of REF 2021, including unconscious bias training for all staff involved in decision making.

      Find out more about Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at Middlesex

      See our Equality and Diversity policy

      Declaration of Individual Staff Circumstances

      Our Middlesex Declaration of Individual Staff Circumstances was sent to all staff whose outputs were eligible for submission to REF2021 (see ‘Guidance on submissions’, paragraphs 117-122). Committed to supporting equality and diversity in REF, we have put in place safe and supportive structures for staff to declare information about any equality-related circumstances that may have affected their ability to conduct their research productively during the assessment period (1 January 2014 – 31 July 2020).

      Staff consultation on our Code of Practice

      All academic colleagues were invited to a series of lunchtime consultation sessions on our Code of Practice in May 2019. Staff who were unable to attend were invited to raise questions or make suggestions on how our Draft Code of Practice could be improved directly to the Director of Research or their Faculty’s Deputy Dean for Research. Following this consultation, the Draft Code of Practice was then submitted to Academic Board for approval in June 2019.

      For Middlesex staff further details of our preparations for REF 2021 can be found on the intranet (visible to Middlesex staff only).

    • Research integrity

      Research integrity underpins all Middlesex research activity. We are committed to the Concordat to Support Research Integrity, the principles of which are a key feature of the University’s Code of Practice for Research, itself periodically reviewed along with Research Ethics Policy Framework Statement (reviewed in 2014 and 2019).

      The Director of Research reports annually on research integrity to the Research and Knowledge Exchange Committee (RKEC), which then reports to the Academic Board. This includes a review of cases of academic misconduct (investigations organised by Registry), Ethics Committee case work, training on research integrity/ethics, lessons learned and proposed actions for the coming year.

      We train and support our researchers on academic and research integrity through our Researcher Development Programme of face-to-face workshops, and an online Academic Integrity Awareness Course – compulsory for newly joined staff.

      Find out more about our Research Ethics

    • REF 2021 Privacy Notice

      The REF 2021 Privacy Notice explains what personal information the University holds in relation to the REF 2021 exercise, detailing why we hold this information, what we do with it, how long we keep it for and if we share it with third parties.

      This covers:

      • Current Middlesex University employees (employed during the REF assessment period) who are considered to be REF-eligible individuals with a primary employment function of “Teaching & Research” and may include staff with a primary employment function of “Research only”
      • Former Middlesex University employees (employed during the REF assessment period) who were REF-eligible at the time of ceasing employment and who have research outputs that were generated while they were employed at the University during the REF assessment period
      • Individuals who are not employed by the University but whose contract or job role includes the undertaking of research primarily focused at the University during the REF assessment period or who are not employed by the University but who have provided testimonials concerning the development of impact case studies in relation to the University’s preparations for the REF 2021 exercise.

      View Middlesex University’s REF 2021 Privacy Notice

      See also: Middlesex University Public Policy Statements

    • Open Access and Open Data

      Making research publications open for public access – 'Open Access' publications – enables anyone with an internet connection to read them (free of charge) and also potentially enables their re-use (with appropriate contribution).

      We encourage all of our researchers to deposit publications 'on acceptance' in the Middlesex University Research Repository in line with the University’s Open Access Publications Policy. The University supports its staff to make their research data accessible too, and the University participated in a lively pilot project on the extension of ‘open data’ and data curation in research.

      Further information about Open Access and depositing work in the Repository

    • Rules and guidance

      REF has produced a number of publications to set out the rules for submission and provide guidance to universities, the most important of which include:

      Revisions in response to COVID-19

      The guidance in the above three documents has been revised in response to the effects of COVID-19. For more information, please refer to the Guidance on revisions to REF 2021 (REF 2020/02). An overview of all changes to timeframes, along with additional published guidance and details of contingency plans for REF 2021 is available on the REF website.

      REF's answers to frequently asked questions

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