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Executive summary


1. This document:

  • sets out the detailed criteria and working methods the REF institutional-level (IL) environment pilot panel (‘the panel’) will use in undertaking its assessment, and
  • provides supplementary guidance (Annex A) intended to support higher education institutions’ (HEIs’) development of the institutional-level environment statement.

Key points

2. All HEIs submitting to the REF are required to return a single IL environment statement (REF5a) in addition to an environment template (REF5b) for each submitting unit they are returning to the REF. The IL statement will be appended to each unit-level template submitted by an institution. The REF sub-panels will use the information provided in the IL statement to inform and contextualise their assessment of the relevant sections of the unit-level template.

3. A separate pilot will focus on the standalone assessment of the IL environment. The submitted IL statements will be assessed by the panel constituted for this purpose, and this process will run concurrently to the REF 2021 assessment. The panel will apply the same overarching criteria of vitality and sustainability and the same four starred quality levels and level definitions as are applied in assessing unit-level submissions.

4. The supplementary guidance that the panel has provided for HEIs sets out details of information and indicators for inclusion. These are not intended to be prescriptive; institutions may draw on these as relevant to their own context.

5. The panel will be wholly independent of the work of the REF main and sub-panels, and will be subject to the same requirements for managing conflicts of interest and confidentiality as all other REF panels.


6. 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

7. For further information about the REF see

8. Staff at UK HEIs should direct any queries to their institutional REF contact. Contact details for each institution are listed at, under Contact.

9. Other enquiries should be addressed to