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REF 2021 – Bath Spa University

The Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021 at Bath Spa

What is REF?

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

REF2021 is considered by the UK's funding bodies for Higher Education to have a threefold purpose:

  • 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

A 2015 review of the 2014 REF, written by Lord Stern, identified three further roles of the exercise:

  • To provide a rich evidence base to inform strategic decisions about national research priorities
  • To create a strong performance incentive for HEIs (Higher Education Institutions) and individual researchers
  • To inform decisions of resource allocation by individual institutions

How does REF work?

The REF assesses 34 subject-based units of assessment (UoAs) which are split into four main panels. 

The submissions are assessed through peer-review by expert panels that are made up of senior academics in relevant fields, international members and research users who are made up of people outside of academia in the private, public and third sectors.

A submission is made containing three distinct elements:

  • Outputs - The quality of research publications and other kinds of output.
  • Impact - The impact of the outputs beyond academia, in the form of impact case studies.
  • Environment – Information is required about the institution’s strategy and resources to support research and enable impact, relating to the period 1 August 2013 to 31 July 2020.

The deadline for submissions to REF 2021 has been delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but details have yet to be confirmed. Updates to Research England decisions can be found on the REF 2021 website.

The results of REF2021 will provide information about the quality of universities’ research and are expected to inform QR (quality-related) research funding from 2022 onwards.

Who is eligible for REF submission?

All staff on teaching and research or research-only contracts who have ‘significant responsibility for research’ will be submitted to the REF, ‘provided they are independent researchers’.

Bath Spa's Code of Practice outlines in detail which eligible staff will submitted to REF 2021.

Outputs are eligible if produced by individuals who meet the following criteria on the census date in July 2020:

  • Employed to undertake research (staff on teaching-only contracts are not eligible)
  • Holds ‘significant responsibility’ for research and undertakes it as an ‘independent’ researcher
  • Employed on a contract of at least 0.2 FTE
  • Employed by Bath Spa after 1 January 2014

How is research assessed in REF?


An output is the result of an investigation ‘leading to new insights effectively shared’ – such as a journal article, a book (written or edited), a book chapter, a performance, digital or visual media, a composition, a physical artefact, a digital artefact, an example of design, a conference paper, a public lecture, a conference workshop, or the organisation of an exhibition or a conference. 

This makes up 60% of the assessment (a decrease from 65% in 2014) and consists of outputs produced by the University during the assessment period (1st January 2014 to 31st December 2020).

How many outputs are required? 

For individuals employed at BSU who have ‘significant responsibility for research’ on a census date in mid-2020, a minimum of one output and a maximum of five outputs per person may be submitted.

Outputs may also be submitted if their authors were employed at BSU since 01/01/2014, and at the time the output first became publicly available, but have since left. In this case, there is no minimum number of outputs required, but the maximum of five still applies.


Impact is the effect on, change or benefit research makes to the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life beyond academia.

This makes up 25% of the assessment (an increase from 20% in 2014) and consists of case studies detailing the benefits from our research. 


This makes up the remaining 15% of the assessment and describes the environment we have to support our research. 

REF at Bath Spa

How will the University select the content for its submission?

The Vice-Chancellor has overall authority for the REF submission. REF preparations are managed by REF Steering Group. Unit of Assessment Leads and Advisory Groups make the principal academic judgements on submission content for units, guided by internal and external review.

This process will be governed by BSU’s REF code of practice.

REF Code of Practice

BSU has developed a Code of Practice on the fair and transparent identification of staff and outputs for submission to the 2021 Research Excellence Framework (REF 2021). BSU staff and union delegates were consulted on during the drafting of this document.

REF Steering Group

The REF Steering Group was set up to manage and overview the University’s preparations for submission to REF.

Unit of Assessment leads

UoA 4: Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience
Dr. Jermaine Ravalier

UoA 14: Geography and Environmental Studies
Dr. Richard Johnson

UoA 17: Business and Management
Dr. Mark Loon, Professor Allyson Macvean

UoA 23: Education
Professor Charlotte Chadderton

UoA 27: English Language and Literature
Richard Kerridge, Professor Ian Gadd

UoA 28: History
Professor Astrid Swenson

UoA 32: Art and Design: History, Practice and Theory
Professor Steve Dutton, Professor Hilary French

UoA 33: Music, Drama, Dance, Peforming Arts, Film and Screen Studies
Dr. Laura Purcell-Gates, Professor James Saunders

UoA 34: Communication, Cultural and Media Studies
Dr. Matthew Freeman.

Further information

For REF guidance and FAQs, please see their the REF 2021 website.

If you have any questions regarding REF at Bath Spa University, please contact our REF Manager, Dr. Anna Simandiraki-Grimshaw. 

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