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A letter sent today to heads of institutions sets out the four UK higher education funding bodies’ decisions on the timing of the submission deadline for the 2021 Research Excellence Framework (REF) and extension to the assessment period for impact.

The revised submission deadline is confirmed as noon, 31 March 2021, for all elements of submissions. The exercise is scheduled to resume on 31 July 2020, eight months ahead of the revised submission deadline. Updated guidance on any revisions to the exercise will be published by this date, following a further period of engagement with the HE sector and wider partners. As previously advised the staff census date of 31 July 2020 remains unchanged.

In recognition of ongoing uncertainty about the effects of COVID-19, the funding bodies have set a review date in November 2020. This will consider the level of disruption being experienced, and whether further contingency arrangements for the REF may be necessary.

The letter also confirms an extension to the period in which examples of impact may occur, in order to be eligible for submission. The extended assessment period for impact will therefore run from 1 August 2013 to 31 December 2020. This is an extension from the previous end date of 31 July 2020. The extension has been put in place to enable case studies affected by, or focusing on the current response to, COVID-19 to be assessed in REF 2021.

These decisions follow a short survey seeking views from the sector, which closed in May 2020.

Commenting on the decisions, Dr Steven Hill, Director of Research at Research England and Chair of the REF Steering Group, said:

‘We received an excellent response to the survey, from a wide range of organisations, groups and individuals. This has been incredibly valuable to our decision-making process. We carefully considered the arguments that were set out, alongside the clear preferences shown for the March deadline and impact extension in terms of numbers alone, and were persuaded that these options best met our criteria for revisions to the exercise.’

With the revised submission deadline now in place, amended timings for the panel nominations process are expected to be confirmed shortly.


  • Read the letter circulated to HEIs about the revised submission deadline and the assessment period for impact here.
  • A summary of responses to the survey is available here.
  • To see more about E&D considerations for REF 2021, including the EIA on the revised timetable click here.