Posted on 20 May '22

How To Make Your REF 2021 Results Useful For Prospective PhD Students

The REF provides a great way for universities to celebrate their research, but it also provides a unique opportunity to engage specifically with prospective PhD students. We’re helping our student audience understand the results and how they can be used in the decision-making process, as well as supporting our customers to tell their success stories.

Our REF 2021 content on has seen more than 11,000 pageviews since going live last week, showing that potential PhD students want to understand what REF means for them.

For those considering research as a career path, the process is a lot more complicated than at undergraduate or even Masters level. They have to navigate a vast array of information about potential universities, departments, facilities, research groups and supervisors (to name a few). This is where the REF can help.

As the REF is solely for our PGR audience, it’s unique in the higher education sector. And, because it works through peer-review, it has the distinct ability to tell a prospective PhD student what the academic community they want to join thinks about a department they want to become an academic in. We can’t underestimate the importance of peer-review to this audience, as well as how good the environment (which will give them ideas around progression and support) for research is.

And let’s remember, this isn’t a ranking system. The REF doesn’t seek to list universities in order. Instead, it shows the standard particular aspects of a university’s research have achieved, making it a more focused application guidance tool.

What parts of REF 2021 are most relevant for PhD recruitment?

Here’s what the REF tells prospective PhD students:

  • Output highlights the work they might want to be doing during their studies and – crucially – what other academics in the field think of it.
  • Impact shows what they can achieve with their research (and helps articulate the value of a PhD outside academia).
  • Environment measures (and showcases) the recruitment, support and progression of doctoral students.

Focusing on these elements in your PhD marketing and recruitment will help differentiate you from competitors as well as highlighting the importance of the REF itself.

How can you use REF 2021 for your PhD recruitment?

#1 Explain how the whole thing works

REF methodology seems complicated, but what it measures is fairly simple and the process – peer review – is logical. This needs to be explained in a way that makes sense to prospective PGRs. The key here is to clearly and succinctly highlight why they should care. Without this education piece, it doesn’t matter how good your scores are: they won’t help your postgraduate recruitment, and they really should.

To save time, you can always use our guide, instead of writing your own.

#2 Publish your statements

A lot of work went into your impact and environment statements and chances are they're exactly the stories you should be telling. Whether you publish them as downloadable assets, on your webpages or in an explainer video, get them up where prospective PhD students can see them, and in a format that they’ll easily understand.

#3 Lead with students

The day-in-the-life student story is one of the most powerful marketing tools, at all levels of study, so focus on the people behind the research. Draw out the current PhD students in your REF stories and give others someone to aspire to work with or be.

How can FAU support you in shouting about your results on

Showcasing all results

We’ve created a convenient and accessible breakdown of the REF 2021 results at UK universities. This includes the overall rating for each unit of assessment as well as results for outputs, impact and environment. This allows prospective PhD students to first search for a university of choice and then the subject area at that university, so they can view the results based on their research interests.

Making it easy to promote on our listings

For our customers, we’ve done some tech wizardry so you can now add your REF results to your projects on the site – and choose where you do or don’t display them.

  • To add REF 2021 results to an individual project, simply log into your PhD admin and edit the ‘Project Settings’.
  • To add REF 2021 results to an entire department’s projects or programmes, simply select ‘Manage’, then navigate to ‘Department/School Details’ and enable results at that level.

We’ve recorded some short videos to help you with this process:

Individual project listing level

Department level

My programmes / projects aren’t on

Now is the time to celebrate the great research your university is doing and invite prospective PhD students to be a part of it.

If you're interested in finding out about our programme and project listings, or have any questions about PhD recruitment options, please get in touch with your Account Manager, email [email protected] or call +44(0) 114 268 4940.

FindAUniversity take pride in being experts in postgraduate education. Follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter for regular insight, comment and case studies.

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