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Research Excellence Framework 2021

What is the Research Excellence Framework?

The Research Excellence Framework (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

As part of the REF 2021 exercise, the University must develop, document and apply a code of practice on the determination of academic staff that have significant responsibility for research and who are independent researchers, and on the selection of outputs for the University's submission. This must be done in a way that is fair and transparent.

The University consulted with staff and the union on its approach to identifying staff who will be submitted to REF 2021. 

The Code explains our approach to identifying independent researchers with significant responsibility for research, two of the criteria necessary for being submitted to the REF.  Associate Deans with responsibility for research and the Research Lead in the Institute of Theology will be contacting all academic staff to determine their workload research tariff which is the basis for identifying REF eligible staff.

It is key that we are scrupulously fair and transparent in the process of identifying academic staff for submission to the REF and apply the principles of equality, diversity and inclusivity. This is also the case for our process for submitting research outputs.

Voluntary Disclosure of Individual Circumstances

If you are identified as eligible for submission to REF2021, you have the opportunity to disclose voluntarily and on a wholly confidential basis any individual circumstance that you feel may have affected your ability to produce research outputs over the REF period (1 January 2014 to 31 July 2020). If you wish to disclose such circumstances, please complete the form below and return, in confidence, to Iqfa Hudda, Head of Research Services (

Individual circumstances declared through the enclosed form will be reviewed by the University's REF Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Panel in order to assess whether there may be a need to adjust the number of outputs expected.

There will be two deadlines for submission of the form declaring individual circumstances:

  • 16th December 2019
  • 6th February 2020

Appeal Process

If you are not identified as eligible for inclusion in the REF, the Code proposes an Appeals process governed by an Appeals Panel whose members are independent from decisions about the identification of staff and outputs. Staff involved in dealing with appeals from academic staff will receive appropriate equality, diversity and inclusion training as will all those involved in REF decision making.

Who to contact if you have a question

If you are unsure or unclear about any of the issues raised, please do contact your line manager and/or your Faculty Associate Research Dean or Institute Research Lead. 

REF 2021 Enquiries and Support

If you require any further information about REF 2021, please contact the Head of Research Services at or your Faculty Associate Research Dean or Institute Research Lead.

REF 2021 Guidance and Forms

REF 2021 results

Majority of St Mary's Research Rated World Leading or Internationally Excellent

The 2021 Research Excellence Framework (REF) results published today show that the majority of research submitted by St Mary’s is 4* World Leading or 3* Internationally Excellent in its originality, significance, and rigour.

The 2021 edition of the REF evaluated St Mary's research across four Units of Assessments (UOA):

  • Theology and Religious Studies
  • Sport and Exercise Sciences, Leisure, and Tourism
  • English Language and Literature
  • Social Work and Social Policy

View REF 2021 results