REF 2021 banner image

60% of University of Bedfordshire's research and 50% of its impact was judged to be world-leading or internationally excellent by the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021.

UoB Submission Key Figures infographic

In all, the University of Bedfordshire submitted in nine units of assessment across the sciences, social sciences and humanities with aspects of internationally excellent or world-leading research in all of them, clearly demonstrating the breadth of the research carried out at Bedfordshire. University had particularly excelled in a number of areas, including research carried out by the Centre for Research in English Language Learning and Assessment (CRELLA) and work from the Institute of Applied Social Research.

Through the REF, CRELLA has pitted itself against the more traditional universities and is placed above both Oxford and Cambridge in the English unit of assessment, ranking 3rd out of 92 submissions, with a huge 72% of their research classed as world-leading – the highest possible rating.

The Institute of Applied Social Research is also celebrating with 81% of its research classed as internationally excellent or world-leading, a testament to the University's commitment to working with those with lived experience of the societal issues we explore, ensuring that our research reflects the University’s values - bringing immediate and applicable benefits to some of the most vulnerable groups in society.

View the University of Bedfordshire's full results here.

Ref 2021 UoAs infographicKey Highlights:

  • 3rd out of 92 submissions in English Language and Literature
  • 81% of Social Work and Social Policy  research classed as internationally excellent or world-leading
  • 6 of 9 UoAs had majority of outputs graded as world-leading (4*) and internationally excellent (3*)

Professor Rebecca Bunting, Vice Chancellor of the University of Bedfordshire:

"These results are truly exceptional. REF 2021 marks an important advance in the recognition of language testing as a field of study and the leading role of the University of Bedfordshire within that area. It is fantastic news for the University of Bedfordshire and testimony to the quality of the research carried out at the University.

We proud that our research and knowledge exchange addresses the real and complex challenges faced by business, public services, and communities at home and globally."

Read our digital 'Made at Bedfordshire' booklet that includes a selection of case studies submitted for REF 2021.

We have also opened an interactive 'Made at Bedfordshire' exhibition, housed in the Gallery Space (Campus Centre, Luton) which will be on display until July 2023.

The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is carried out approximately every 6-7 years to:

  • assess the quality of research across UK universities
  • show the quality and output of research on a domestic and global stage
  • show the impact research has on the academic environment and our society and highlight its real-world benefits

The REF was first carried out in 2014, replacing the previous Research Assessment Exercise. The REF is 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 four UK higher education funding bodies use the REF to inform the allocation of around £2 billion of research funding per year. The thoroughness of the exercise is designed to provide accountability for public investment in research, demonstrating its benefits and impact.

REF is also used by HE institutions for:

  • Benchmarking and establishing reputational yardsticks with peer institutions and departments
  • Understanding institutional strengths for external communications
  • Informing strategic university decisions
  • Understanding larger sector-wide trends
  • Attracting researchers and postgraduate students
  • Learning more about a university or department you might want to work with
  • Securing further funding

Lessons learned from the current exercise will inform the Future Research Assessment Programme (FRAP), which is exploring possible future approaches to the assessment of UK higher education research performance, including through dialogue with the HE sector.

REF assesses the quality of research in participating UK universities, in all disciplines. REF 2021 was carried out by 34 expert panels (‘sub-panels’), grouped into 4 main panels.

The expert panels reviewed submissions made to the 34 ‘units of assessment’ (UOA). Each UOA covered a subject area such as clinical medicine, engineering, law and history. 

  • Main Panel A: Medicine, health and life sciences
  • Main Panel B: Physical sciences, engineering and mathematics
  • Main panel C: Social sciences
  • Main Panel D: Arts and humanities


REF overall quality diagram


Definitions of Star Scales

At the overall quality profile level, the starred levels denote the quality of the submissions as follows: 

Quality level


Four star 

Quality that is world-leading in terms of originality, significance and rigour. 

Three star 

Quality that is internationally excellent in terms of originality, significance and rigour but which falls short of the highest standards of excellence. 

Two star 

Quality that is recognised internationally in terms of originality, significance and rigour 

One star 

Quality that is recognised nationally in terms of originality, significance and rigour. 


Quality that falls below the standard of nationally recognised work. Or work which does not meet the published definition of research for the purposes of this assessment.