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Research Excellence Framework 2021

What is the REF?

The REF is the system for assessing the quality of research in UK higher education institutions. It 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).

Download REF 2021 Glossary

What is the REF’s purpose?

  • To inform the selective allocation of funding for research. 
  • To provide accountability for public investment in research and produce evidence of the benefits of this investment.
  • To provide benchmarking information for use within the HE sector and for public information.

How is the REF carried out?

The REF is a process of expert review, carried out by expert panels for each of the 34 subject-based units of assessment (UOAs), under the guidance of four main panels. Expert panels are made up of senior academics, international members, and research users

REF submissions

The deadline for submissions is 27th November 2020. Submissions will be assessed by the REF panels during the course of 2021. Results will be published in December 2021, and will be used by the HE funding bodies to inform research funding from the academic year 2022/23.

What is assessed?

For each submission, three elements are assessed:


This accounts for 60% of the assessment. The quality of submitted research outputs during the assessment period (1st January 2014 to 31st December 2020) will be assessed in terms of originality, significance and rigour. A portfolio equal to 2.5 research outputs for each eligible staff FTE on the census date (31 July 2020), with a minimum of 1 output per staff member and a maximum of five will be submitted for assessment to the REF.


This accounts for 25% of the assessment and consists of Case studies describing specific examples of impacts achieved during the assessment period (1st August 2013 to 31st July 2020), underpinned by research in the period 1st January 2000 to 31st December 2020.


This accounts for 15% of the assessment and requires an institutional-level environment statement, and a completed template describing the submitted unit’s research and impact environment, related to the period 1st August 2013 to 31st July 2020. It also includes data on research income and post-graduate degrees awarded.