You need cookies enabled to use this website.
For the current REF, see the REF 2029 website | For REF 2014, see the REF 2014 website
You need cookies enabled

The UK higher education funding bodies have made the final decisions on the operation of the next Research Excellence Framework process, REF2021. The conclusions, which follow a year of consultation, confirm the arrangements for returning research staff and outputs to the exercise

The publication ‘Decisions on staff and outputs’, together with the ‘Initial decisions on the Research Excellence Framework 2021' published in September 2017, sets out the broad framework for REF 2021 following the independent review of the REF in 2016, led by Lord Stern.

The decisions published today confirm that key recommendations set out in the Stern review are to be met, while incorporating significant adjustments to the implementation initially proposed by the funding bodies, as a result of extensive engagement with the higher education sector.

The recommendations confirmed include the proposal that all staff with significant responsibility for research should be included in the REF. The funding bodies have set out their expectation that, for many submissions, this will include 100 per cent of staff meeting core eligibility criteria. Responding to concerns that contract status alone may not accurately identify such staff in all disciplines or types of institution, the funding bodies have confirmed that there will also be an alternative route available for including staff, whereby institutions can implement a process, in discussion with staff, for identifying who among them has significant responsibility.

The decisions also address Lord Stern’s recommendation that research outputs should be eligible for submission by the institution where they were generated. As a transitional approach, where a researcher has moved, both the institution currently employing the researcher and the institution where the research generated may submit the output. This approach was clearly supported in responses made to the funding bodies’ recent request for views on this issue.

The funding bodies have also taken key decisions on other aspects including the number of research outputs and impact case studies required. These were informed by institutions’ estimates of the numbers of staff in scope for submission.

The decisions also confirm which higher education institutions in England are eligible to participate, as well as further details about open access, the unit of assessment structure, and multiple submissions.

 In January, the four UK funding bodies will be holding a series of ‘town hall’ meetings across the UK to provide details on the decisions that have been taken on REF 2021. Find further information and register.


  1. The REF is the UK’s system for assessing the excellence of research in higher education institutions. It first took place in 2014. The next exercise will be conducted in 2021.
  2. The REF is undertaken by the four UK higher education funding bodies: the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), the Scottish Funding Council (SFC), the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW), and the Department for the Economy, Northern Ireland (DfE).The ‘Decisions on staff and outputs’ document is published by HEFCE on behalf of all the funding bodies.
  3. Lord Stern led an independent review of the REF, ‘Building on Success and Learning from Experience’, which reported in 2016. The review set out key recommendations on the design of the next exercise.
  4. Read the consultation and the later Questions on staff and output portability.
  5. Initial decisions on several aspects of the REF were published in September 2017.
  6. For further information on the REF see