REF 2021 – final decisions published

HEFCE kept their word and published the final decisions on REF 2021 in the autumn. Having issued the initial decisions on the Research Excellence Framework 2021 in September, the final decisions were published this week. HEFCE released its further decisions on staff and outputs on 21 November 2017.  These decisions have been informed by responses to key questions relating to staff and outputs and a survey of staff in scope for submission. This blog post provides a summary of the key decisions.


Submitting staff:

Previous REF/RAE exercises asked institutions to select staff for submission. The Stern Review in 2016 recognised how divisive this practice was and instead recommended that all research-active staff be returned to the next REF. HEFCE are implementing this recommendation by expecting all staff with a ‘significant responsibility for research’ to be submitted, provided they are ‘independent researchers’. What do these terms mean in practice? The HEFCE definition is:

“those for whom explicit time and resources are made available to engage actively in independent research, and that is an expectation of their job role. Research is defined as a process of investigation leading to new insights, effectively shared. Staff engaged exclusively in scholarship would not be considered to have a significant responsibility for research.”

Working with the REF 2021 main panels, HEFCE will provide further guidance on identifying staff with significant responsibility. This will be published in the guidance on submissions and panel criteria. This guidance will not prescribe a fixed set of criteria that all staff would be required to meet, but will set out a ‘menu’ of what HEFCE would consider may be appropriate indicators of significant responsibility.


Recognising that there are staff who have more significant responsibility for other activities, HEFCE will implement an approach whereby institutions, working with their staff and with guidelines, identify who is in scope for submission among staff meeting core eligibility criteria. HEFCE has defined the core eligibility criteria as:

Category A eligible’

  • academic staff with a contract of employment of ≥0.2 FTE
  • on the payroll of the submitting institution on the census date (31 July 2020)
  • whose primary employment function is to undertake either ‘research only’ (independent researchers only) or ‘teaching and research’
  • have a substantive connection with the submitting institution (i.e. BU)
  • for staff on ‘research only’ contracts, the eligible pool should only include those who are independent researchers, not research assistants

‘Category A submitted’ describes the staff from the ‘Category A eligible’ pool who have been identified as having significant responsibility for research on the census date.

Where the ‘Category A eligible’ staff definition accurately identifies all staff in the submitting unit with significant responsibility for research, the unit should submit 100% of staff. Where it does not accurately identify all staff in the submitting unit who have significant responsibility for research, institutions will need to implement processes to determine this and document this in a code of practice, approved by the relevant funding body with advice from the Equality and Diversity Advisory Panel (EDAP).


Submitting outputs:

  • The average number of outputs required per submitted FTE will be 2.5 (up from 2 outputs as previously suggested by HEFCE).
  • A minimum of one output will be required for each staff member employed on the census date (as expected).
  • A maximum of five outputs may be attributed to individual staff members (including those who have left) (down from 6 outputs as previously suggested by HEFCE).
  • Data on the distribution of outputs across staff in the unit, including staff who have left, will be provided to the sub-panels for consideration in relation to the assessment of the environment.

Output portability: A transitional approach is being adopted whereby 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 previously employed when the output was demonstrably generated. ‘Demonstrably generated’ will be determined by the date when the output was first made publicly available. This applies to the whole REF 2021 period.

Open access: The REF Open Access policy will be implemented as previous set out. This requires outputs within the scope of the policy (journal articles and some conference proceedings) to be deposited as soon after the point of acceptance as possible, and no later than three months after this date from 1 April 2018. Due to concerns around deposit on acceptance, a deposit exemption will be introduced from 1 April 2018 and remain in place for the rest of the REF 2021 publication period. This will allow outputs unable to meet this deposit timescale to remain compliant if they are deposited up to three months after the date of publication.


Number of impact case studies required

Submissions will include a total of one case study, plus one further case study per up to 15 FTE staff submitted, for the first 105 FTE staff returned (with a reduced requirement above this of one additional case study per 50 FTE staff). Submissions will therefore include a minimum of two case studies.


For the latest information, see our REF 2021 webpage.