SOAS University of London


Research Excellence Framework 2021

  • What is REF?

    The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is the system for assessing the quality of research in UK higher education institutions.

    The three main purposes are:

    • To provide accountability for public investment in research and produce evidence of the benefits of this investment
    • To provide benchmarking information and establish reputational yardsticks for use within the HE sector and for public information
    • To inform the selective allocation of funding for research

    And the conduct of the exercise is governed by the following principles:

    • Equity – the fair and equal assessment of all types of research and forms of research output
    • Equality – promoting equality and diversity in all aspects of the assessment
    • Transparency – the clear and open process through which decisions are made and information about the assessment process is shared

    REF results will provide information about the quality of institutions’ research. It is expected to inform the allocation of QR (quality-related) research funding to institutions from 2022 onwards.

  • Timeline to REF

    So far

    In November 2017 initial decisions regarding the submission of staff and outputs (pdf) was published.

    In autumn 2017, two initial documents were published 1) initial Decisions on REF 2021 (PDF) and 2) Decisions on Staff and Outputs (PDF).

    This was followed by the release in Summer 2018 of three documents: Draft Guidance on submissions (PDF), Consultation on the panel criteria and working methods (PDF) and Guidance on codes of practice (PDF). Although some elements of these details may change, they form a solid basis on which to plan activities leading up to the REF submission.

    Next steps

    In early 2019 SOAS will undertake a review of selected Impact Case Studies and REF eligible outputs for all Units of Assessment.  

    Submissions to REF will be made in November 2020, with the results published in December 2021.

  • Current REF guidance

    As it stands the main guidelines are:

    • There are 34 Units of Assessment. Three distinct elements will continue to be assessed: outputs (60%), impact (25%) and environment (15%).
    • There is an increased focus on interdisciplinary research - each sub-panel will have at least one member to oversee the assessment of interdisciplinary research.
    • Institutional and Unit of Assessment Environment Statements will be required to describe support for interdisciplinary research, equality and diversity, impact, collaboration with organisations beyond HE, and open research (see our strategies for supporting open access and research data management).
    • Measures to promote equality and diversity in REF 2021 are being put in place. Those staff whose ability to research productively over the REF cycle has been affected by certain circumstances (such as absence, illness) will be permitted to submit fewer outputs.  This will include allowing staff to be returned without the required minimum one output where exceptional individual circumstances apply.
    • Outputs may be submitted by both the institution employing the staff member on the census date and the originating institution where the staff member was employed when the output was first made publicly available. 
  • REF guidance on outputs
    • The average number of outputs required per FTE (employed on the census date) will be 2.5.
    • A minimum of one output will be required for each staff member returned in REF 2021 employed on the census date.
    • A maximum of five outputs may be attributed to individual staff members.
  • REF guidance on Impact
    • Two impact case studies will be required up to 19.99 FTE staff returned to the REF, plus one further case study per 15 staff returned, up to 105 FTE
    • Impact case studies can be a continuation of a 2014 study, but will need to provide evidence of additional impact.
    • Impacts on teaching within the submitting institution will be allowed.
    • All corroborating evidence will have to be submitted.
    • The funding bodies are encouraging public engagement as a pathway to impact.
  • Further reading