Initial Decisions REF 2021 - HEFCE

Latest from HEFCE on REF 2021

   21 April 2021

This document sets out the first set of the funding bodies' initial decisions on the Research Excellence Framework following the recent consultation.

Initial decisions on the Research Excellence Framework 2021 - a summary

1. Outputs

Interdisciplinary research

  • Each sub-panel will have at least one appointed member to oversee and participate in the assessment of interdisciplinary research submitted in that UOA;
  • There will be an ‘interdisciplinary identifier’ for outputs in the REF submission system;
  • There will be a discrete section in the environment template on the submitting unit’s structures in support of interdisciplinary research.

Outputs due for publication after the submission date

A reserve output may be submitted in cases where the publication of the preferred output will postdate the submission deadline.

Assessment metrics

Quantitative data may be used to inform the assessment of outputs, where the panels consider this appropriate.

2. Impact


  • Harmonised definitions of ‘academic impact’ and ‘wider impact’ will be developed between the UK funding bodies and the Research Councils;
  • Additional guidance will be provided on the criteria for impact of ‘reach and significance’ and impact arising from public engagement;
  • The guidance on submitting impacts on teaching will be widened to include impacts within, as well as beyond, the submitting institution;
  • Consistency with the previous exercise will be maintained – impacts will remain eligible for submission by the institution(s) in which the associated research has been conducted and they should be underpinned by excellent research (at least two star);
  • The assessment process will be refined as follows:
    • The impact template (REF3a in 2014) will be included as an explicit section in the environment element;
    • The impact case study template (REF3b in 2014) will be revised to include a set of mandatory fields and will also include a section for additional contextual data to be provided in a standardised way (e.g. the  research funder);
    • The routine provision of audit evidence (corroborating information underpinning the truth of the claim made in the case study) will be required on submission.
  • Decisions have yet to be finalised on the following three aspects:
    • The number of case studies required (it is intended that the number required will be determined in relation to the volume of activity in the unit);
    • Case studies continued from examples submitted in 2014 will be eligible for submission in REF 2021.  Submitting units will need to identify continued case studies in the case study template, and provide evidence of additionality to the example submitted in 2014;
    • Research activity and bodies of work (it is intended to broaden out the relationship between the underpinning research and impact from individual outputs, to include a wider body of work or research activity).


  • An assessment of institutional-level impact case studies will be piloted but this aspect will not be included in REF 2021;
  • Institutions will be invited to express an interest in participating in this pilot activity.

3. Environment


  • The UOA-level environment element will be assessed on the basis of a more structured template, including the use of more quantitative data to evidence narrative content;
  • The revised template will include information on the unit’s approach to:
    • supporting equality and diversity;
    • supporting collaboration with organisations beyond higher education;
    • enabling impact in the period;
    • ‘open research’ (open access strategy) including where this goes above and beyond the REF open access policy requirements.


  • Institutional-level information will be included in the UOA-level environment template and will be assessed by the relevant sub-panel;
  • A pilot of the standalone assessment of the institutional-level environment will be undertaken but the outcomes will not be included in REF 2021.

4. UOA Structure

  • There will be a single UOA for Engineering (UOA 12);
  • UOA 17: Geography, Environmental Studies and Archaeology will be restructured to form UOA 14: Geography and Environmental Studies and UOA 15: Archaeology;
  • Film and Screen Studies will be located and included in the name of UOA 33: Music, Drama, Dance, Performing Arts, Film and Screen Studies;
  • There will be further dialogue with the subject communities for forensic science and criminology to consider concerns raised about visibility;
  • The revised UOA structure (reduced to 34 UOAs from 36) is set out at Annex A.

5. Recruitment of Expert Panels

  • The sub-panel chairs will be appointed through an application process.  Further information about these roles and how to apply is available at Annex B.  The deadline for applications is noon on 11 October 2017;
  • HEFCE will appoint sub-panels at the criteria-setting stage that comprise sufficient members to ensure the sub-panel has appropriate expertise for this task, rather than the volume required to undertake the assessment;
  • Various measures in relation to increasing representativeness of the expert panels will be implemented.

6. Outcomes and Weightings

  • The outcomes will be produced in the form of an overall excellence profile, as well as publishing the three sub-profiles (outputs, impact, environment) for each submission;
  • The revised weightings are set out in Table 1 below:
Table 1: REF 2021 Weightings v REF 2014


REF 2021

REF 2014


60% ↓



25% ↑



15%  =


7. Timetable

The development table for the REF 2021 is set out in Table 2 below:

Table 2: 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

Publish draft guidance, and consultation on panel criteria

Winter 2018-19

Publish final guidance and criteria


Complete preparation of submission systems


Submission phase


Assessment phase

8. Further Decisions

HEFCE are undertaking further engagement activity in some areas before finalising the arrangements in the autumn, including the:

  • eligibility of institutions to participate in the exercise;
  • submission of staff; and
  • output portability.

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A further set of decisions will be taken on the remaining aspects of the framework in the autumn, incorporating further consultation activity.