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      Welcome to


The #REF2021 Webpages 



We are in the next research review period and all information relating the REF2021, as it develops, will be posted here.

The Research Excellence Framework (REF) has replaced the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) as the process for assessing the volume and quality of research in UK HEIs.

As with the RAE, the results of the REF will determine the annual quality-related research (QR) grant distributed from HEFCE to HEIs in England. The last REF exercise was REF 2014. Institutions made their submissions in autumn 2013 and the results were published in December 2014.

The next REF exercise is officially still referred to by HEFCE as the post-2014 REF. However, we are anticipating that the next assessment taking place will be REF 2021. If this is the case then submission would be in autumn 2020. 

  •  HEFCE's REF2020 Open Access FAQs click here
  •  Open Access for REF2020 - Insights: the UKSG Journal click here
  •  The University of Bolton Institutional Repository (UBIR) click here


What do we know about REF 2021?

Assessment elements: These are not yet confirmed, however, anecdotal evidence suggests this is likely to be the same as REF 2014:


1. Outputs

REF 2014 permitted the submission of research outputs in any form providing they embodied original research. It is likely this will be the same in REF 2020.

Open access (OA): 

HEFCE have confirmed that all journal papers and conference proceedings published from April 2016 will have to have been made freely available in an institutional [such as The University of Bolton Institutional Repository (UBIR)] and/or subject repository at the time of acceptance in order to be eligible for submission to the next REF. Read the policy here (July 2015). 

Some publishers require authors to embargo any publicity of an accepted article until it has been published:

"... the content of the paper must not be advertised to the media by virtue of being on the website or preprint server"

Most repositories, including UBIR, allow records which have been deposited to be completely shadowed from public view, for example until the article has been published. 

HEFCE have indicated that deposit is required within 3 months of acceptance, but that access and visiblity can be delayed intil publication or following any publisher imposed embargo.

HEFCE has confirmed that: "... we are content ... for repositories to make the output discoverable upon publication if that is what the author wants. It must still be deposited on acceptance."

This is also covered by FAQ no. 8 on the HEFCE FAQ pages.

Extra Notes: HEFCE have confirmed that extra points in the Environment section will be awarded to institutions that can demonstrate:

  1. that they have taken steps towards making other outputs types available OA on their repositories (such as book chapters, conference proceedings);
  2. that outputs are presented in a form that allows re-use of the work, including via text-mining;


Citation data was provided to some sub-panels in REF 2014 to inform the peer review process. Anecdotal evidence suggests reviewers are using these to judge borderline papers or to compare papers, with a high citation count tipping the score into the higher classification. It is anticipated that citations will be used in REF 2020 but the details are not yet known. To identify the citation rates of a particular journal, click here.

The role of Metrics in Research Assessment: HEFCE are conducting an independent review to ascertain the extent to which metrics could be used in the assessment and management of research.

However, it is not known yet when the results/ actions will be published or how this will be used in the design of REF 2020. HEFCE have committed to confirming how metrics will be used in spring 2015 with full details available in the summer. Please find below the current reports on Metrics and Research Assessment:

  1. Independent review of the role of metrics in research assessment
  2. Metrics cannot replace peer review in the next REF


2. Environment

The assessment of the Environment part of REF 2014 was measured by a narrative plus metrics (postgraduate research students completions, external research grants captured). This element counted for 15% of the overall scores. Assessment was based on the vitality and sustainability of the research environment, focusing on:

  1.  Culture of scientific research,
  2.  Career breaks,
  3.  Targeted recruitment,
  4.  Staff development opportunities,
  5.  HR strategy for research. 

It is anticipated that each unit will also submit a Research Environment Statement covering a particular period (tbc), outlining how the unit supports research. The length of the Research Environment Statement will depend on the number of staff submitted.


3. Impact

The Impact element of REF 2014 was measured via impact case studies and a strategy narrative. For the purposes of the REF 2014, impact was defined as an effect on, change or benefit to the:

  1.  Economy,
  •  Society,
  •  Culture,
  •  Public policy or services,
  •  Health,
  •  Environment or quality of life,
  •  Beyond academia.

Impact includes, but is not limited to, an effect on, change or benefit to the activity, attitude, awareness, behaviour, capacity, opportunity, performance, policy, practice, process or understanding of:

  •  an audience,
  •  beneficiary,
  •  community,
  •  constituency,
  •  organisation or
  •  individuals

in any geographic location, whether locally, regionally, nationally or internationally. 

Impact includes the reduction or prevention of harm, risk, cost or other negative effects.

For the purposes of the Impact element of the REF (2014):

  1.  Impacts on research or the advancement of academic knowledge within the higher education sector  (whether in the UK or internationally) are excluded.
  2.  Impacts on students, teaching or other activities within the submitting higher education sector are  excluded.
  3.  Other Impacts within the higher education sector, including on teaching or students, are included where  they extend significantly beyond the submitting HEI.

The outcomes have been reported here and here.

Interestingly, these documents will inform policy developments for REF 2020.  Further information can be found here.


 Key Components

1.  Impact Evaluation: HEFCE asked RAND Europe to work with a sample of HEIs to evaluate the submission   process for the impact element of the REF 2014. This formative evaluation aimed to:

  1.  Describe the perceived benefits and burdens to HEIs and research users in preparing their impact  submissions
  2.  Identify intended and unintended consequences of assessing research impact for different  institutions and    disciplines
  3.  Formulate evidence-based conclusions and recommendations for improving the processes of  preparing    submissions for impact assessment
  4.  Highlight innovative and good practices for institutions, research users, the funding councils and  other  stakeholders.

The outcomes have been reported here and here.

2.  Impact Weighting: For REF 2020, it is likely Impact to be worth 25%. It is also expected that the  standards of        evidence for the Case Studies will be much more vigorous. 

3.  Impact Evidence: The started date for REF 2020 Impact period might be 1 August 2013. 

4.  Impact from Research: The REF2014 Impact Case Studies can be found here. The University of Bolton            Case Studies can be found here.


Other useful documents (REF 2014)

Information from HEFCE on the regulations and timetable for REF2014:
  1. REF: Second consultation on the assessment and funding of research (published September 2009)