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REF4 environment data

The information on this page was published whilst the exercise was being conducted; this material is provided for background information only and will not be updated.


Each submission must include data on research doctoral degrees awarded (REF4a), research income (REF4b) and research income-in-kind (REF4c), to inform the assessment of the research environment. Further information on REF4 data is set out in paragraphs 165 to 186 of ‘Guidance on submissions’ and further panel specific guidance in Part 2 the 'Panel criteria'.

The definitions used for REF4a/b data are aligned with those used in returns to the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA). REF4c data should be based on records held by the UK Research Councils and relevant health research funding bodies. 

Institutions may prepare their submissions using their internal sources of data, or make use of HESA data provided by the REF team and income-in-kind data provided by the Research Councils and health research funding bodies.

Institutions should return all eligible REF4a/b/c data relating to each unit of assessment (UOA) they submit in. The data should relate to the whole submitted unit, not just submitted staff. Where the HEI decides not to submit to a particular UOA, it should not include research doctoral degrees awarded, research income or research income-in-kind from that unit in its submissions to other UOAs.

Provision of data

The REF team has arranged for the following data to be provided to institutions, to support them in preparing submissions and as a basis for verification.

REF4a/b data

HESA data for REF4a/b have been provided via the REF extranet. Full guidance on how these data have been extracted from the HESA record is available as a guidance note on the REF extranet. These data include:

  • the number of research doctoral degrees awarded in ademic years (AYs) 2008-09 to 2011-12
  • external research income for AYs 2008-09 to 2011-12 (extracted from the HESA Finance Statistics Return (FSR) table 5b ‘Research grants and contracts’).

Following HEIs' submission of student data to HESA from August 2013, HESA will make data on research doctoral degrees awarded in AY 2012-13 available in a suitable form through the ‘checkdoc’ facility.

Institutions will be expected to use their own records of research income data for AY 2012-13.

REF4c data

The UK Research Councils have supplied data for research income-in-kind for AYs 2008-09 to 2012-13 (up to 31 March 2013) on the REF extranet with associated guidance notes. Institutions will not be expected to calculate the data for AY 2012- 3 internally, as previously advised, and should not include Research Council income-in-kind beyond 31 March 2013.

The relevant health research funding bodies’ data for research income-in-kind for AY 2008-09 to 2012-13 (applicable to UOAs 1-6 only) was provided by the relevant body, directly to the HEIs concerned, during June and July 2012.

Research Council Facilities (June 2013)

The UK Research Councils have provided a list of eligible facilities that they have included in the research income-in-kind data.

Download the Research councils income-in-kind facilities as MS Word (18 KB)

REF submission system limits

The REF4a/b/c data provided to institutions will be used as a means of assuring the accuracy of submissions. The REF submission system will limit the extent to which the data returned in submissions can exceed the institution’s corresponding HESA data and the data provided by the UK Research Councils and health research funding bodies.

The system limits are available. They will be applied at the level of the whole institution, as the data are not held at the level of REF UOAs. Institutions will need to ensure that the REF4 data are submitted in the appropriate UOAs.

The limits allow for some flexibility, to recognise instances where an institution identifies additional eligible REF4 data that had not been returned to HESA or is not held by the Research Councils or health funding bodies. Such data may be included in the REF submission only if they meet the eligibility requirements, and may be subject to audit by the REF team. Further information regarding REF audit of environment data is available under ‘Audit and data verification’.

Data adjustments

There may be circumstances where the institution intends to submit data that exceed the system limits (for example where the HEI has absorbed a unit that did not previously return research degrees awarded or research income to HESA). In such cases the institution should contact the relevant agency as follows:

  • REF4a/b. To request the return of REF4a or REF4b data that exceed the submission system limits, institutions were required to contact the REF team by e-mail at, with the exact figures proposed for return and an explanation of why the additional data are eligible. Institutions were required to contact the REF team no later than 1 June 2013, and should have contacted the REF team if they were not be able to meet this deadline. The REF team will investigate each request, liaising with the relevant funding body as necessary, and aim to resolve it within one month of receipt. Where the additional data are accepted as eligible, the REF team will adjust the REF submission system limits as appropriate.
  • REF4c. Where an institution identifies a shortfall in the research income-in-kind data provided by UK Research Councils, the institution should contact the relevant body directly. For data provided by health research funding bodies (in UOAs 1-6 only), institutions should respond directly to the contact that provided the data. UK Research Councils data provided on the REF intranet includes all data adjustments agreed prior to April 2013. Where any further adjustments are agreed with the Research Councils, the institution must inform of the final approved data, no later than 30 August 2013
    UK Research Council’s contacts: