SOAS University of London

Support for SOAS Researchers

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


    In January 2019 the final guidance was published: 1) Guidance on Submissions; 2) Panel Criteria and Working Methods; 3) Guidance on Codes of Practice.  All documents can be accessed in full from the REF website REF 2021.

    Next steps

    During 2019 SOAS is undertaking a review of selected Impact Case Studies and REF eligible outputs for all Units of Assessment.   

    Submissions to REF will be made by a revised submission deadline of 31 March 2021, with the outcomes of the assessment published in April 2022. This delay of four months by Research England is in response to the effects of COVID-19.

  • 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.

    The Publications and Research Data Officer, with the Scholarly Communications Team in the Library, can provide advice and guidance on meeting the dissemination requirements of research funders, in addition to SOAS and REF policies. They can also advise how to make deposits to SOAS Research Online, the School’s repository.

    Team members can also help you to compose data management plans at the application stage. They provide training on Open Access and data management and sharing.

    They also support the use of the UKRI Open Access block grant and internal Publications Fund.

  • 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.

    The Impact team can guide you on the design and implementation of your research impact strategies. They advise on Impact Summaries and Pathways to Impact at the proposal stage. They also support the development of high quality Impact Case Studies for REF 2021.

    The team has created a comprehensive blended-learning programme of impact training and development workshops, including the Moodle courses 'Talking Impact' and 'Enhancing Research Impact'. These can help you increase your understanding of how you can have a real-world impact on the issues you research. 

    Support is also provided for the administration of the Engagement and Impact Fund.

  • SOAS REF 2021 Code of Practice

    All Higher Education Institutions are required to develop a Code of Practice which outlines their procedures for preparing submissions and for selection of staff for REF 2021, addressing equality and diversity issues.

    SOAS REF 2021 Code of Practice

  • Further reading