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The analysis is published to coincide with REFlections, the first national conference on REF 2014, on Wednesday 25 March 2015 (Note 1). It was carried out by Digital Science and King’s College London, and co-funded by the UK higher education funding bodies, Research Councils UK and the Wellcome Trust (Note 2).

The REF impact case studies were produced as part of the ground-breaking assessment of research impact included in REF 2014. For the first time, universities participating in the UK’s national assessment of research quality were invited to provide examples of the wider impact of their research as part of their submissions.

This latest work has produced the REF impact case study database, a searchable tool enabling analysis and automated text mining of the case studies (Note 3). The database will encourage and enable further analysis of the case studies by any interested parties in the UK and internationally.

Commenting on the new impact case study research and database, Professor Madeleine Atkins, Chief Executive of HEFCE, said:

‘Following the outstanding success of the Research Excellence Framework, showing that UK research leads the world, this analysis shows that as well as being of the highest quality, the research that UK universities undertake has a very positive impact across all areas of the economy and society.

‘I urge research users to mine this rich source of information, which is now easily accessible, to make the most of the impact case studies.

‘We and the other UK funding bodies will look closely at the findings of the reviews and consider carefully how the impact case study process can be further improved for the next REF’.

An initial synthetic analysis of the REF impact case studies has also been undertaken in a report ‘The nature, scale and beneficiaries of research impact’ (Note 4). Its key findings include that:

  • Over 80 per cent of the REF impact case studies included underpinning research from multiple disciplines.
  • The impact case studies were diverse and wide-ranging, with over 60 unique ‘impact topics’ identified.
  • The reported research impacts stemmed from research in a wide-range of subject areas, with over 3,700 unique pathways from research to impact identified.
  • Research undertaken in UK higher education institutions (HEIs) has made a contribution to every country in the world.

Evaluation of the case study process

This 'impact' element of the REF has now been evaluated which will lead to further improvements for future REF exercises.

The two-phase evaluation, conducted by RAND Europe, focused first on the preparation of submissions on 'impact' by HEIs and then on the process for assessing impact by the REF panels (Note 5).

The evaluation has highlighted a number of positive features of the impact assessment, including a range of benefits for HEIs in preparing submissions. It underlines the panels’ view that the process has enabled them to assess 'impact' in a fair, reliable and robust way. The evaluation also draws out some of the challenges for institutions and panels, including an additional burden in preparing the submissions.

The funding bodies welcome the findings of the 'impact' evaluation and look forward to refining the assessment process in consultation with the sector.


  1. The REFlections conference presents a package of evidence on the Research Excellence Framework 2014 including:
  • initial analysis of the impact case studies and what they tell us about the state of UK research
  • a first chance to access and use the online database of impact case studies submitted to the REF 2014 exercise
  • outcomes of the evaluation of impact in the REF from the perspective of submitting institutions and assessment panels
  • feedback from members of the assessment panels
  • reflections on wider analysis and future work, including initial recommendations from the independent review of the role of metrics in research assessment.
  • emerging outcomes from the review of the costs, benefits and burden for institutions of REF 2014

Further details of the conference are available on our website.

  1. Digital Science is a division of Macmillan Science and Education. It worked on this project with Nature Publishing Group and the Policy Institute and Digital Humanities at King’s College London.
  2. The impact case study database and the research reports being discussed at the REFlections conference are available.
  3. Read ‘The nature, scale and beneficiaries of research impact’.
  4. Read the evaluation of the 'impact' element of the REF.