REF 2021 so far

In communications released over the summer period and in late November, HEFCE have confirmed many important aspects of the requirements for the next Research Excellence Framework, REF 2021.

Outcomes and weightings
  • Five-point scale:  4* – Unclassified
  • Weightings:  Outputs –60%,  Impact –25%;  Environment –15%

HEFCE are implementing Lord Stern’s recommendations to decouple staff and outputs.  The number of outputs submitted will be determined by the FTE of staff submitted in each Unit of Assessment, with the flexibility to allow minimum and maximum number of outputs per staff member

  •  Minimum 1 and maximum 5 outputs per individual
  • Average of 2.5 outputs per FTE


  • For REF2021, outputs may be submitted both by the institution employing a researcher on the census date (31 July 2020), and by the institution where the researcher was previously employed when the output was demonstrably generated
  • ‘Demonstrably generated’  – when the output was first made publicly available
  • Impact remains with institution where research was generated
  • Impact must be underpinned by excellent research of minimum 2* quality
  • 1 January 2000 -31 December 2020 for underpinning research;  1 August 2013 -31 July 2020 for impacts
  • Definitions of impact will be broadened
  • Impact on teaching at the submitting institution will be counted
  • Case studies continued from examples submitted in 2014 will be eligible
  • Minimum 2 case studies per Unit of Assessment
Submission of staff

All staff with significant responsibility for research will be returned to REF 2021. 

Starting point of identifying ‘total pool of category A eligible staff’:

  • 0.2 full-time equivalent (FTE) or greater
  • primary employment function is to undertake either ‘research only’ or ‘teaching and research’
  • substantive connection with the submitting institution
  • and they must be independent researchers (i.e. not research assistants

In institutions that are confident that all Category A Eligible staff have ‘significant responsibility’, 100% of those staff should be submitted.  In institutions where the basic criteria for ‘Category A Eligible’ staff does not accurately identify only those staff with significant responsibility for research, a smaller group of ‘Category A Submitted’ staff can be identified—those staff with ‘significant responsibility for research’.

Significant responsibility for research: ‘those for whom explicit time and resources are made available to engage actively in independent research, and that is an expectation of their job role.’ (REF 2017/04)

The criteria for determining who should be included in this category should be determined by each HEI. The process must be developed collaboratively in consultation with staff, and relate to standard ways of working at the institution. It should be written into a Code of Practice.




Thinking differently for REF 2021

We know that many people are keen to understand more about the REF 2021 rules, and to begin planning and considering the ways they may best be implemented for their institution. There are several aspects of the high-level framework that continue from the previous exercise; but there are also key changes to the submission process…

via Thinking differently for REF 2021 — HEFCE blog

REF 2021 Decisions on staff and outputs

REF 2021 Decisions on staff and outputs have been published this morning.  You can access the  publication at:



REF 2021 at UCA – Webinar 27th September 1.00pm

Initial decisions on REF 2021

Starting the process – The UCA REF Audit
With Nino Nizharadze
Wednesday 27th September at 1.00pm

Following an independent review of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) the funding bodies have published initial decisions on several high-level aspects of the exercise.
These decisions include: outcomes and weightings, output assessment, UoA structure, interdisciplinary research, collaboration, assessment of impact and environment at the Unit of Assessment (UoA) level,
definition of impact, and the REF development timetable.

The webinar will provide a summary of the initial decisions on REF 2021 and discuss possible implications for UCA.

Interested? – email  and we will send you your link to join this webinar. All you need is a computer (or mobile phone) with headphones.

Update: Staff Submission and Output Portability

As mentioned in the previous post, HEFCE published their initial decisions on a number of aspects of REF 2021. Long awaited decisions on staff submission (including minimum and maximum number of outputs) and output portability are due to come out in autumn, following a consultation (a second one) with HEIs.

HEFCE has invited institutions to submit their views on the proposed approaches related to the above aspects (deadline 29 September). These approaches can be found here.

HEFCE’s proposed development timetable for REF 2021

Autumn 2017 Invite nominations for panel members


Further decisions on the arrangements for submitting staff and outputs


Winter 2017-18 Appoint panels
Spring 2018 Panels meet to develop criteria
Summer to Autumn 2018 Publish draft guidance, and consultation on panel criteria


Winter 2018-19 Publish final guidance and criteria


2019 Complete preparation of submission systems
2020 Submission phase
2021 Assessment phase





Initial decisions on REF 2021: summary points


On 1 September HEFCE published their initial decisions on some high-level aspects of REF 2021. Here’s the summary of the decisions:

Assessment and Scoring 

  • As in REF 2014, REF 2021 will assess the following:
    • outputs – 60% (down from 65%)
    • impact– 25% (up from 20%)
    • environment – 15%
  • The five point scale from unclassified to 4* (world leading) remains the same


  • There will be strong support for interdisciplinary research: each sub panel will have at least one appointed member to oversee assessment of  interdisciplinary research (also see environment section below)
  • A Reserve output may be submitted when a publication does not appear in time for the REF submission deadline


The environment template will be expanded and restructured to include:

  • More quantitative data (details tbc in further guidance)
  • Data on research income, income in kind and research degrees awarded (as in REF 2014)
  • Information on enabling impact
  • Information on supporting collaboration beyond HE
  • Information on structures to support interdisciplinarity
  • Unit’s approach to Open Access/open research
  • Impact template (in REF 2014 this was a standalone template)
  • Support for equality and diversity
  • Institutional level information

A standalone institutional level environment statement will not be included in REF 2021 as recommended by the Stern Review.


  • Definitions of ‘academic impact’ and ‘wider impact’ will be aligned with the Research Councils’ definitions (both are part of the dual support system)
  • Further guidance will be provided around: ‘reach and significance’ of impact; impact arising from public engagement; impact on teaching, to include impact within, as well as beyond, the submitting institution.
  • Impact must be underpinned by  ‘excellent’ research of at least 2* quality and be produced between 01/01/2000 and 31/12/2020. The impact claimed in the case studies must take place between 01/08/2013 and 31/07/2020
  • The impact case study template will be expanded to include more questions and a section on additional contextual data
  • Cases studies will require “routine provision of audit evidence”, but this will remain confidential and not be given to the panel
  • The number of case studies required is still to be decided. It will possibly be linked to the number of outputs
  • Continuation of case studies from 2014 is allowed, but impact must take place during the REF 2021 assessment period (please see 2nd bullet above)

Please click here to view Initial Decisions on REF 2021 full document.

Initial decisions on REF 2021

Latest news on REF 2021

  • outputs – 60 per cent
  • impact – 25 per cent
  • environment – 15 per cent

Read full details on the initial decisions here:,332017/



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