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The early review of staff circumstances was conducted as part of the new approach in REF 2021 for taking account of the effects that individual staff circumstances have had upon research productivity. EDAP’s report on the review process provides key advice to universities participating in the exercise, in advance of the submission deadline in March 2021.

The approach to staff circumstances in REF 2021 seeks to recognise both where staff have been unable to produce the required minimum of one output due to individual circumstances, and where the cumulative effect of staff circumstances for a submitting unit is disproportionate. To provide greater confidence to institutions in applying output reductions on this basis, the approach in REF 2021 allowed requests to be reviewed in advance of the final submission deadline.

Circumstances requests were submitted by 58% of universities intending to participate in REF 2021, across both the minimum of one and unit reduction request processes. For both request processes, cases were most commonly submitted for early career researchers.

The report highlights that a clear majority of reductions were applied by institutions in line with the published guidance, with 83% of requests to remove the minimum of one recommended for acceptance and 88% of unit reduction requests. The panel’s feedback on the review process provides important advice for institutions on applying reductions, including points of good practice and common areas where the guidance was incorrectly applied. Likely to be particularly helpful for institutions is the feedback on assessing disproportionality for unit reduction requests. The report and an accompanying blog by Professor Dianne Berry OBE, Chair of EDAP, describe how the panel reached its judgements on these cases, providing more clarity for universities around when a unit reduction may be applied.

Universities have now received the recommendations on their requests, which will indicate where reductions may be applied without penalty when the final submission is made in March 2021. EDAP will produce a final report at the end of the exercise, including full summary data on applied reductions.


  • EDAP’s interim report is available here.
  • A blog by the EDAP chair on assessing disproportionality is available here.