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 contents of this page refer to details that were amended after the exercise was paused in response to COVID-19. Please click here to see an overview of changes to timeframes, along with additional published guidance and details of contingency plans for REF 2021.

The ‘Guidance on submissions' (REF 2019/01) details how UK universities should make their submissions to REF 2021 and the ‘Panel criteria and working methods' (REF 2019/02) describes how the REF 2021 panels will assess this research. The documents have been developed by the REF’s expert panels and the four funding bodies following consultation with the sector in summer 2018. The changes from the last REF in 2014 to REF 2021 largely follow the recommendations set out in 2016 in an independent review led by Lord Stern. The REF Steering Group, made up of representatives from the four funding bodies, has provided background information on some of the key decisions that have been taken. 

The publication of these documents marks a key stage in preparations for the next REF, the system used by the UK’s HE funding bodies to assess the quality of research in UK universities. In early 2020, the UK’s four HE funding bodies will invite UK universities to make submissions to the REF 2021. The deadline for submissions is 27 November 2020.

Chair of the REF 2021 Steering Group, and Director of Research at Research England, Dr Steven Hill, said:

‘REF 2021 has developed through an evolutionary and consultative process. We have built on the successes of the previous REF, and earlier RAEs, and introduced key changes in response to sector feedback. In implementing the recommendations of the Stern review, informed by consultation feedback, the funding bodies have sought to strike a balance between continuity and development. We have introduced changes where it is judged they can bring demonstrable improvements, while recognising the efficiency gains in maintaining continuity where possible.’

The guidance documents set out a number of measures to support equality and diversity in the REF. These include the arrangements for taking account of the effect of staff circumstances on productivity, which were revised following feedback in the consultation in summer 2018. The Chair of the REF Equality and Diversity Advisory Panel, Professor Dianne Berry OBE, has written an open letter to the sector explaining how these decisions were reached.

The funding bodies have also published the ‘Guidance on codes of practice' (REF 2019/03), and in early February 2019, they will publish:

1. An invitation to institutions to submit their codes of practice, including information on the submission process. This letter will also be sent directly to heads of UK universities. Research England will run webinars and workshops during February to support UK universities in developing their REF codes of practice.

2. A model staff data collection statement

The detailed guidance and criteria for the institutional-level environment statement are currently under development by the pilot panel. They will be published in summer 2019, following consultation.


  • Research England manages the REF on behalf of the UK’s higher education funding bodies – Research England, the Scottish Funding Council (SFC), the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW), and the Department for the Economy, Northern Ireland (DfE).