REF 2021 Final guidance and criteria published

January 31, 2019

The UK’s four higher education (HE) funding bodies have published the key documents that provide guidance to UK universities when submitting their research to the next Research Excellence Framework, REF 2021.

The ‘Guidance on submissions’ (REF 2019/01) details how UK universities should make their submissions to REF 2021 and the ‘Panel criteria and working methods’ (REF 2019/02) describes how the REF 2021 panels will assess this research. The documents have been developed by the REF’s expert panels and the four funding bodies following consultation with the sector in summer 2018. The changes from the last REF in 2014 to REF 2021 largely follow the recommendations set out in 2016 in an independent review led by Lord Stern. The REF Steering Group, made up of representatives from the four funding bodies, has provided background information on some of the key decisions that have been taken.

The publication of these documents marks a key stage in preparations for the next REF, the system used by the UK’s HE funding bodies to assess the quality of research in UK universities. In early 2020, the UK’s four HE funding bodies will invite UK universities to make submissions to the REF 2021. The deadline for submissions is 27 November 2020.

The guidance documents set out a number of measures to support equality and diversity in the REF. These include the arrangements for taking account of the effect of staff circumstances on productivity, which were revised following feedback in the consultation in summer 2018. The Chair of the REF Equality and Diversity Advisory Panel, Professor Dianne Berry OBE, has written an open letter to the sector explaining how these decisions were reached.

The funding bodies have also published the ‘Guidance on codes of practice‘ (REF 2019/03), and in early February 2019, they will publish:

1. An invitation to institutions to submit their codes of practice, including information on the submission process. This letter will also be sent directly to heads of UK universities. Research England will run webinars and workshops during February to support UK universities in developing their REF codes of practice.

2. A model staff data collection statement

3. The REF privacy notice

The detailed guidance and criteria for the institutional-level environment statement are currently under development by the pilot panel. They will be published in summer 2019, following consultation.


Taken from the REF 2021 website:

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