REF 2021

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

About REF

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

The deadline for submissions to REF2021 will be in November 2020 and results will be published in December 2021.

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.

REF2021 Assessments

REF assessments are a process of peer review, carried out by an expert sub-panel in each Unit of Assessment (UoA). Every element submitted to the REF will be graded on a scale.

At REF2014 the quality of each output submitted was graded as follows:


Quality that is world-leading in terms of originality, significance and rigour.


Quality that is internationally excellent in terms of originality, significance and rigour but which falls short of the highest standards of excellence.


Quality that is recognised internationally in terms of originality, significance and rigour.


Quality that is recognised nationally in terms of originality, significance and rigour.


Quality that falls below the standard of nationally recognised work, or work which does not meet the published definition of research for the purposes of this assessment.

Definition of research

Research was defined by REF 2014 as ‘a process of investigation leading to new insights effectively shared’ i.e. disseminated within the wider academic domain.

REF2021 will consist of three main elements:


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).


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. 

Changes since 2014

The major review of the REF carried out in 2015 by Lord Stern has resulted in a number of proposed changes to the exercise to be carried out in 2021. Lord Stern's review of the REF can be found in his review: 'Building on success and learning from experience'.

A significant change included:

  • REF2021 will not be as selective an exercise as REF2014. Universities will be required to include all staff who have a significant responsibility for research.

Additional information

Additional information can be found in the joint funding bodies' consultation document.

Updates on REF 2021 can be found on their news page.

If you have any questions regarding REF at Bath Spa University, please contact our REF Manager, Dr Paul Newland

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