REF 2021 Guidance published

Published: Posted on

Final copies of the Guidance on Submissions (the technical rules for the REF) and the Panel Criteria and Working Methods (how the panels will operate) were published on the REF2021 website on Thursday 31 January. Alongside these were published a note from the REF Steering Group explaining the key decisions which helped to shape these documents, and a number of blog posts from some of the critical players in the process, such as the four main panel chairs and the Chair of the REF Equality and Advisory Panel, Diane Berry.   There is also the final version of the Guidance on the Code of Practice that institutions must prepare. These documents have all aimed to build, where possible, on the feedback received during the REF consultation which took place last summer.

Guidance on Submissions and the Panel Criteria are both long and complex documents, and those of us responsible for the management of REF submissions do have to read them in their entirety, but for those who are not in this happy position, what are the key points?

In fact, there have been few areas of really substantive change since the consultation last summer, and all of those were effectively flagged by the questions in the consultation process. Some highlights include:

  • There has been considerable work on the staff circumstances provisions, aimed at ensuring staff experiencing E&D-related constraints on their ability to research are well-supported and that the process enables these constraints to be taken into account. These are reflected in the Guidance in Submissions, the Code of Practice requirements and the environment template. In general the environment template has a strong and welcome emphasis on E&D.
  • The names of staff submitted to the REF won’t be published at the end of the process, so in many UOAs there will be no straightforward way of telling how many outputs were associated with an individual researcher.
  • The Open Access compliance band has been modified to take into account the challenges facing small units (GOS).
  • Units submitting to Main Panel D may in limited circumstances submit co-authored outputs more than once in the same submission (PCWM).
  • The sections of the environment template will be differently weighted for MPD compared with the other three main panels.
  • The cost-allocation pilot carried out for UOA4 Psychology as part of the consultation won’t be taken any further.

There has been a lot of work to clarify areas of the documentation which were identified as unclear. Areas where there have been clarification include:

  • Requirements and processes related to the submission of interdisciplinary research in particular the purpose of the ID flag (GoS and PCWM; a guidance note pulling together all the material in both documents about ID research will be published to help people navigate how it will be handled).
  • Definitions of significant responsibility for research and independent researchers (GOS and PCWM).
  • The guidance relating to double-weighting and practice research (PCWM).
  • Main Panel A’s approach to “continuing” case studies (PCWM)
  • The use of testimonials in impact case studies (PCWM)

Members of the Research Planning Team will be poring over the guidance in the next few weeks, so if you have any questions, come and ask us on Twitter: @impact_uob or by email:



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