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An expert panel appointed to test the feasibility of assessing the research environment at whole-university level has reported its findings. The institutional-level environment pilot panel (ILEPP) reviewed submissions from the 157 universities that participated in REF 2021. The report sets out ILEPP’s key findings and makes recommendations to the funding bodies on inclusion of institutional-level assessment in future exercises. The panel concluded that:

  • Institutional-level assessment has the potential to reduce burden for universities in preparing REF submissions and provides valuable recognition of the support for research and impact at that level.
  • It should replace the current unit-level model for assessing the environment, that was used in REF 2021 and previous exercises.
  • Detailed refinements will be needed, including a more structured and data-based template, to ensure the process is sufficiently robust.

The four UK higher education funding bodies welcome publication of the pilot’s findings. The report will feed into the Future Research Assessment Programme, to inform the arrangements for a future exercise.

The four funding bodies commenced the pilot exercise in response to the recommendations of an independent review of the REF in 2016, led by Lord Stern. The recommendation for a separate assessment of the institution’s research environment aimed to reduce duplication in the submission process, and to recognise and reward those aspects of the environment that reflect the strategy, support and actions of the institution as a whole.

Professor Chris Day, Vice Chancellor and President of Newcastle University, chaired the pilot panel. Commenting on the pilot’s findings, he said:

‘I was delighted to chair the pilot panel through our important work. The pilot showed the feasibility and real value of introducing institutional assessment. My panel is clear in the view that assessment at this level has much to offer universities: in reducing the workload involved in producing multiple unit statements, and in supporting a ‘coming together’ across an institution to identify, reflect on and develop the strategies and resources invested in research and delivering impact from it.’

Dr Kim Hackett, UK REF Director, said:

‘I welcome publication of these findings, which highlight the multiple opportunities of institutional assessment. The report will provide a vital input into the development of future assessment policy. I would like to thank the panel for all their work during the pilot process’.


  1. The REF was 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 NI). REF 2021 was managed on behalf of the funding bodies by a team based at Research England.
  2. The Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021 produced outcomes and the level of discipline-based units within universities. This included the assessment of the environment in place for supporting research and enabling impact within that unit.
  3. The institutional-level environment pilot ran alongside the main REF 2021 assessment, drawing on information submitted as part of that process. The outcomes from the pilot did not contribute to the outcomes of REF 2021.
  4. ILEPP’s report is available on the REF website under ‘Publications and reports’ from 07:00 on 28 July 2022.
  5. The pilot panel included senior research leaders with a breadth of discipline expertise across a range of UK HEIs, as well as individuals with expertise in the wider use and benefits of research, and those with senior-level experience in research management. Details of the membership is on the REF website under ‘Panels’.