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The four UK higher education funding bodies (Note 1) have announced the appointment of members to the main panel and sub-panels for the first stage of the REF 2021 exercise, the criteria-setting phase (Notes 2, 3). This follows a nominations process, when subject associations and other organisations with an interest in research were invited to nominate candidates (Note 3). Over 4,000 nominations were made for roles across the four main panels and the 34 sub-panels.

The panel members include leading researchers and individuals with expertise in the wider use and benefits of research, as well as members with an international perspective on the main panels. Each main and sub-panel also includes at least one member who will take up a new role introduced for REF 2021, overseeing and taking part in the assessment of interdisciplinary research (Note 4).

The sub-panel members appointed for this stage will help develop the main panel criteria over the course of 2018. This reflects the funding bodies’ decision that this should involve wider input than the main panels alone. Responding to consultation feedback, in September 2017 the funding bodies confirmed they would appoint sufficient sub-panel members for this first phase to ensure there is appropriate expertise for developing the criteria (Note 5).

Where suitable nominations were received, the funding bodies have also appointed some of the members who will join the sub-panels for the later assessment phase of REF 2021. They will take up their panel roles in 2020. The proportion appointed varies across the sub-panels depending on the expertise requirements of each unit of assessment (UOA).

The funding bodies will appoint further sub-panel members and assessors in 2020, following a survey of institutions’ intentions to submit to the REF. The survey will show how changes to the submission process may affect the volume and spread of submissions expected in each UOA, and will enable the panels to cover identified expertise requirements responsively.

As part of the aim to increase the representativeness of the expert panels, the funding bodies and the Equality and Diversity Advisory Panel will analyse the panel membership compared with the pool of nominees. They will also review the information provided by nominating bodies on how equality and diversity issues were taken into account in their nominations process in order to identify examples of good practice.


1. The four UK funding bodies are the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), the Scottish Funding Council, the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales and the Department for the Economy, Northern Ireland.

From 1 April 2018 HEFCE’s research and knowledge exchange functions will move to a newly-created council, Research England, within the new organisation UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). Research England will assume joint responsibility with the other three UK funding bodies for undertaking the REF, with the REF team based at Research England from this date.

2. The lists of panel members are available at Further members are still to be appointed by the four funding bodies to a small number of panels. An updated membership list will be published when the process is complete.

3. The REF is the UK’s system for assessing the excellence of research in higher education institutions. The REF was first carried out in 2014, replacing the previous Research Assessment Exercise.

The REF 2021 exercise will take place in three phases. The criteria phase in 2018 will include the development of the detailed guidance and criteria for the assessment; the submissions phase in 2019-20 will include the preparation and completion of submissions by UK higher education institutions; and the assessment phase in 2020-21 will include the preparation for and consequent assessment of submissions by the expert panels.

4. Details of the nominations process can be found in Roles and recruitment of the expert panels’ (REF 2017/03), available at

5. See ‘Initial Decisions on the Research Excellence Framework 2021’ (REF 2017/01), available at