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The guidance in this document has been revised in response to the effects of COVID-19. Please click here to see an overview of all changes to timeframes, along with additional published guidance and details of contingency plans for REF 2021.

Executive summary


1. The document:

  • sets out the framework and generic criteria for assessment in the 2021 Research Excellence Framework (REF)
  • specifies the content, data requirements and related definitions for submissions to the 2021 REF
  • guides higher education institutions on policy and practical matters in preparing submissions.

Key points

2. The REF will be a process of expert review. Expert sub-panels for each of 34 units of assessment (UOAs) will carry out the assessment, working under the leadership and guidance of four main panels.In early 2020, the four UK higher education (HE) funding bodies will invite UK HEIs to make submissions to REF 2021. Each submission in each UOA will contain a common set of data comprising:

3. Information on all staff in post with significant responsibility for research on the census date, 31 July 2020; and information about former staff to whom submitted outputs are attributed.

a. Details of assessable outputs produced in the submitted unit during the publication period (1 January 2014 to 31 December 2020).

b. Case studies describing specific examples of impacts achieved during the assessment period (1 August 2013 to 31 July 2020), underpinned by research in the period 1 January 2000 to 31 December 2020.

c. Data about research doctoral degrees awarded, research income and income-in-kind related to the period 1 August 2013 to 31 July 2020.

d. An institutional-level environment statement, and a completed template describing the submitted unit’s research and impact environment, related to the period 1 August 2013 to 31 July 2020.

4. The deadline for submissions is 27 November 2020. Submissions will be assessed by the REF panels during the course of 2021. Results will be published in December 2021, and will be used by the HE funding bodies to inform research funding from the academic year 2022–23.

Action required

5. This document is for information and to guide institutions in preparing and collecting data for inclusion in REF submissions. No action is required by HEIs at this stage.

Further information

6. Further information about the REF is available at

7. Enquiries from members of staff at UK HEIs should be directed in the first instance to their institutional REF contact. 

8. Other enquiries should be addressed to