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Below are FAQs regarding the submission system, listed as categories.

New (March 2021)

The viewer in the submission system for the case study database is not showing the case study text properly. How can we correct this?

The database viewer shows an initial preview of the impact case study for the searchable database that will be published at the end of the exercise. The data are extracted from the word document; when this is processed, the system checks that the template is correct and that the sections of the case study can be extracted correctly. The preview enables users to verify that the impact case study had been extracted. The exact formatting of the database is not yet decided and the system parsing of the documents will be further developed before publication; this is not required for the submission deadline, but users should be assured that the contents and formatting of their impact case studies is being extracted. When presented in the final database, standard styling will be applied across all case studies; however, this will seek to retain within-text styling (such as use of bold text).

If you receive errors relating to the system being unable to process the document, please ensure the latest Word template is being used, which you can find here. If you find that the formatting is incorrect, please do not try to fix this within your Word template – we will re-format and apply styling to these documents before publishing.

In addition to the database, the PDF versions of case studies as submitted by HEIs (redacted, as required) will also be published.

**Updated March 2021** How will we know which outputs REF have been unable to retrieve?

The submission system started to retrieve outputs from the majority of publishers in January 2021. We expect to be able to retrieve the majority of outputs type D and E within three weeks of the output being entered into the system. 

From w/c 24th January the report “Journal articles REF have been unable to retrieve” should give HEIs a clear indication of those outputs entered into the system before Christmas 2020, that REF have been unable to retrieve and the HEI should upload the output. 

For those outputs entered in January 2021, HEIs should wait for 3 weeks following the addition of the output to the system before running the report and uploading if necessary.  In February HEIs are advised to wait for 7 days before running the report.

From 1st March 2021 for any outputs that the REF team are unable to source within one working day, HEI should assume the REF team will not be able to source these outputs and must upload the PDFs themselves. All PDF outputs must be uploaded by the submission deadline on 31 March 2021.

How are the word counts determined for REF5a/REF5b?

To ensure consistency across all submitting HEIs, the submission system uses a standard word counting algorithm [a word is any text bounded by white space using the regex white space character set].  We are aware that there may be inconsistencies between the submission system and various document processing/counting (for example Microsoft word does not count any words in a text box, the submission system does).  We advise HEIs to use external counters as a guide only; the final count will be determined by the algorithm used by the submission system word counting.  Please also refer to the FAQ regarding the use of tables and diagrams in environment templates ( ).

Submission System

Can we import our REF6 data to apply our reviewed reductions?

Yes, the submission system will accept REF6 imports as normal. To apply reviewed reductions, ensure the REF6 records for the relevant staff members are included in your import. Where there is a reviewed reduction available for staff members included in this import, it will be applied to your submission. The application is regardless of the outcome of the EDAP review. To ‘not apply’ a reviewed reduction using import  you will need to remove the REF6 record(s) you wish to ‘not apply’ from the import file and perform a ‘replace’ import. The reviewed reduction will then be ‘not applied’ to your submission. Data will not be deleted, and the reviewed reduction can be applied again. 

Our unit reduction data is stored in our CRIS system.  How do we apply the reductions from the CRIS system?

As per the import function, loading existing REF6 reviewed reduction data from the CRIS system into the submission system will apply any reductions that have been reviewed by EDAP. REF6 data can be amended in the CRIS system and pushed through to the submission system and the updates will be made to the applied reviewed reductions. The EDAP recommendation is stored in the submission system against each reviewed reduction. 

Can we export our reductions data?

Yes, any applied reductions in a submission can be exported.  The import / export formats have not been changed. EDAP recommendations and any reviewed reductions that are ‘not applied’ will not be exported. 

Access to system features

I have logged into the REF system but I am not seeing all the options that I was expecting. Why is this?

You will only see the parts of the submission system which your user has been granted access to by your system administrator. If you believe that you have been granted access to areas but are still not seeing them, try closing your browser and logging in again. If that fails, ensure that Javascript is enabled in your browser. If you’re still unsuccessful, please contact your administrator and request that they make changes to your user permissions/functions.

Why can I not use the staffID field for my REF1A records?

The staff ID field is only available to those institutions who do not submit all or some of their staff to HESA, and therefore do not have HESA IDs. Please provide the HESA ID for staff in form REF1a if you are not one of these institutions.

Why am I unable to edit existing items or create new items with submissions?

You will only be able to edit items and create new items within a submission if you have write permissions for the corresponding submission and form. Please contact your administrator and request additional permissions.

I have logged into the REF system and am ready to start entering data on the REF forms, but I can only select certain UOAs. Why is this?

You will only see the Units of Assessment (UOAs) for which your system administrator has created submissions. You will also only see UOAs that your administrator has provided you access to. Please liaise with your administrator.


What is the different between the test and live submission systems?

The test (UAT) submission system is a separate system to the live system. Any data you enter into the test system will not be recorded in the live system. You will also be unable to sign in to the live system using your test system user credentials. If you have access to the test system and require access to live, please contact your administrator.

What steps are being taken to ensure the submission system is secure?

Ensuring the security of the data we will collect through the REF 2021 submission system is a central part of our systems development work. As part of this, we commissioned two forms of penetration testing of the system: technical vulnerability testing (direct hacking of the site) and behaviour vulnerability testing (phishing).  

The purpose of the phishing testing is to gather data on the likelihood of users of the REF system being led to disclose information via a spoof or ‘phishing’ email. HEIs were alerted during our briefing events in June 2019 of our intention to carry out this testing as part of our security risk analysis. 

Both forms of testing have now completed. The results will allow us to review the need for any further measures to mitigate risk, including by raising cybersecurity awareness among users.  

Paragraph 272 of the ‘Panel criteria and working methods’ sets out that the requirement for an abstract in English is waived for outputs submitted in UOA 26 (Modern Languages and Linguistics) if the output is produced in any of the languages within the remit of that UOA: that is, all Celtic, Slavonic, Germanic and Romance languages. How should we reflect this in the Submission system?

In the submission system, HEIs are not required to tick the ‘non-English’ box if the output is in one of the non-English languages that falls within the remit of UOA 26. HEIs will only need to tick this box and provide an abstract where the output is in any languages outside UOA 26’s remit. 


How do I get an account so I can login to the submission system?

If you do not have a user account for the test or live submission system and require one, please contact your institution's technical contact to request one. A full list of contacts can be found here:

I have not been sent my verification code email. What do I do?

Your verification code may have gone into a spam/junk folder. Please check these folders and, if you can still not see the code, contact user support.


Which browsers are supported by the REF 2021 submission system?

The submission system has been designed to work with a variety of browsers. It has been tested on, and verified to work with, the latest versions of Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Internet Explorer, Microsoft Edge, Apple's Safari, and Opera. Compatibility is dependent on the development tool used, and the REF uses Angular. A guide can be found on their website -

I cannot log in using Microsoft Edge or Internet explorer?

If you are having problems accessing the site via Microsoft browsers, you need to ensure that is saved in the Trusted Sites list.  This can be found in Control Panel -> Internet Options -> Security -> Trusted Sites.  Click the 'Sites' button and add the Submission system URL to the list.  Then exit the Internet options dialog and restart your browser.


What is the login URL?

There are two system URLs at present, the test system: (indicated by a pink background)
And the live system: (indicated by a blue background)

I have clicked Login but cannot see the sign-in page?

The Microsoft sign-in page is in a pop-out window and it may be hidden behind other windows that you have open.  Alternatively, if you have a dual screen display configured, it may be on the additional screen.

The sign-in page is not displaying my email address. What do I do?

You will not see the sign-in page the first time that you log into the REF 2021 submission system. Click ‘Can’t access your account?’ at the bottom of the page as if you were trying to get back into your account.

The system will not accept the password that I am trying to create. Why is this?

Your password must be between 8 and 16 characters, in a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters, and symbols. It cannot contain your username.

I have been told I have an account but I have not set a password, how do I login?

If you have not logged in before you need to set your password.  Please see Page 12 of the user guide for details of how to access your account for the first time.