Intended for healthcare professionals


The Stern review of the Research Excellence Framework

BMJ 2016; 354 doi: (Published 15 August 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;354:i4413
  1. FD Richard Hobbs, professor and head of primary care1,
  2. Lesley M Roberts, deputy dean2
  1. 1Radcliffe Primary Care Building, Radcliffe Observatory Quarter, University of Oxford, OX2 6GG
  2. 2Warwick Medical School, University of Warwick, Coventry, CV4 7AL
  1. richard.hobbs{at}

Proposed reforms to help navigate through the stormy seas ahead

The United Kingdom Research Excellence Framework (REF) is a 5 to 6 yearly national ranking of all higher education institutions. Assessed by national peer panels in 36 “units of assessment,” or disciplinary areas, the REF informs the government’s annual allocation of core research funding. Most of this funding is reserved for institutional units of assessment whose submitted research is judged world class (4* or 3*).1 The Stern review was commissioned by government to advise whether the REF remained relevant and robust.

Compared with other countries, the UK’s REF involves much more peer review of submissions, rather than simpler objective metrics such as research income or numbers of research students. Peer review is subjective and expensive but is considered more reliable than metrics alone.2 Reliability is important since most core funding for UK higher institutions is based on this quality ranking—£1.57 billion (€1.83bn; …

View Full Text

Log in

Log in through your institution


* For online subscription