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These frequently asked questions (FAQs) relate to submissions to the REF 2021 and policy matters. They have been grouped by category.

Additional categories and further FAQs will be added as necessary.

Open access FAQs are available here. Please note, these are currently under review and will be updated soon.


Will HEIs be able to decide into which UOA staff are submitted?

Yes. Responsibility for mapping staff into UOAs will remain with institutions.

What happens if staff are eligible for submission but have no outputs?

All Category A submitted staff (Category A eligible staff with significant responsibility for research) must be returned with a minimum of one output attributed to them in the submission. Where an individual’s circumstances have had an exceptional effect on their ability to work productively throughout the assessment period, so that the individual has not been able to produce an eligible output, a request may be made for the minimum of one requirement to be removed. Where a unit has not submitted a reduction request and is returned with fewer than 2.5 outputs per FTE, and/or has not attributed a minimum of one output to each Category A submitted staff member, any ‘missing’ outputs will be graded as ‘unclassified’.

Can staff employed after the census date be submitted?

Staff employed after the census date will not be eligible for submission.

Are institutions required to submit staff who have left the institution?

No. The outputs of former staff optionally may be included in submissions, where the staff member was previously employed as Category A eligible when the output was demonstrably generated.

Can research outputs sole-authored by Category C members of staff be submitted for assessment?

No. To be eligible for return, outputs must be authored by ‘Category A submitted’ staff or staff previously employed as ‘Category A eligible’ when the output was first made publicly available. Outputs co-authored by Category C staff may be submitted within the min. 1 and max. 5 limits of the Category A staff co-author.

How do the funding bodies define ‘significant responsibility for research’?

Staff with significant responsibility for research are 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. The Guidance on submissions provides a menu of suggested indicators of significant responsibility for research that institutions might use when developing their processes. This guidance does not prescribe a fixed set of criteria that all staff would be required to meet.

Will staff on ‘teaching and research’ contracts be required to demonstrate research independence?

No. Evidence of research independence will only be required for staff on ‘research only’ contracts. However, staff on teaching and research contracts who are not independent researchers should be identified through the processes that the HEI has put in place to identify staff with significant responsibility for research.

For a joint submission, does the required total of 2.5 outputs per FTE apply to each submitting partner’s total FTE or separately? Or will this be applied at UoA level across the FTE for the whole joint unit submission?

The required total number of outputs will be applied at UOA level. The units involved in a joint submission are free to select their outputs from the total pool across the participating HEIs, regardless of the proportion of staff that each HEI is contributing (within the minimum and maximum limits per individual). HEIs will be allowed to specify how they would like the funding to be split – either by FTE or by a proportion they agree between themselves.

Do Marie-Curie fellowships demonstrate research independence?

The Marie-Curie fellowships aren’t included in the list of independent fellowships because whether or not they have independence varies across the fellowships and the disciplines covered. HEIs should use the indicators in the guidance to establish whether individuals on these fellowships have independence.

Should HESA cost centres and UOA data be the same?

While often related, HESA cost centres and UOAs are not the same. Responsibility for mapping staff into UOAs rests with the institution – using HESA data may be a logical way to do this, but this may vary across departments or institutions.  As long as the mapping is logical, and rationale can be provided for the decisions to map staff into certain UOAs, it would be acceptable for HESA and UOAs to not align exactly. The REF team may choose to audit in certain cases (for example, where large numbers of staff have been submitted into UOAs which are unrelated to their HESA cost centre).

Staff circumstances and codes of practice

Will HEIs be required to submit EIAs as part of the COP submission?

The funding bodies require HEIs to conduct equality impact assessments (EIAs) on the policies outlined in their COP. HEIs are encouraged to refer to these EIAs throughout the COP and may wish to include them as appendices. The funding bodies will require HEIs to submit the final version of their EIA, after the submission deadline in November 2020.

Where a staff member has circumstances which meet the criteria for a reduction but has been able to produce an eligible output during the REF period, can a reduction to zero outputs still be applied for?

No. The removal of the requirement to submit a minimum of one can only be applied where the staff member has not been able to produce an eligible output in the REF period. However, the unit may still be able to apply for a reduction in the total number of outputs required for the unit based on the circumstances of this staff member.

What evidence will HEIs be required to submit for staff circs? Will this be required up-front or through audit?

The guidance on submissions sets out the data requirements for any staff circumstances requests. We have attempted to reduce the amount of information we request from HEIs and do not require HEIs to submit any evidence up-front. HEIs should ensure that they have sufficient evidence to satisfy themselves that the circumstances are as claimed. This may be requested through audit. Further details about audit requirements will be published in summer 2019.

Can a reduction request be made for those appointed between March 2020 and the census date?

Yes. Where there are changes to the Category A submitted staff employed in the unit after the request has been submitted, institutions will be able to make requests for further reductions at the point of submission by amending their REF 6a/b forms. Decisions in these instances will be taken during the assessment year – with respect to the new details only.

Since we are required to report all our ECRs in the 19/20 HESA return, do ECRs need to voluntarily declare their ECR status for the purposes of staff circumstances, or can we just use the ECR HESA data for the purposes of staff circumstances?

The identification of ECRs for the HESA return will require a different process to reporting ECRs with regard to requesting staff circumstances for REF 2021. The funding bodies and EDAP were keen to avoid a two-tier approach to staff circumstances, whereby some were identified automatically, while others would have to be declared. HEIs must therefore provide ECRs with the opportunity to come forward voluntarily to request that they wish the institution to adjust expectations because of their ECR status, or request the removal of the requirement of the minimum of 1.

Do junior clinical academics have to voluntarily declare their junior clinical status for the purposes of staff circumstances, or can we use contract data on junior clinical academics for the purposes of staff circumstances?

Junior clinical academics will need to come forward voluntarily to request that they wish the institution to adjust expectations because of their status, or request the removal of the requirement of the minimum of 1. The template disclosure form contains a tick-box option where an individual can declare their status as a junior clinical academic.

Who will be able to access data on staff circumstances, and what information will they be able to see? How and when will this information be destroyed?

Submitted data will be kept confidential to the REF team, the REF Equality and Diversity Advisory Panel, and main panel chairs. All these bodies are subject to confidentiality arrangements. The REF team will destroy the submitted data about individuals’ circumstances on completion of the assessment phase.

In a joint submission, where one HEI is only submitting into that UOA, is it sufficient for them to use the COP submitted by the lead institution rather than submitting their own?

Yes, institutions within a joint submission, where one institution is submitting only to that UOA, may agree to use the code of practice of the lead institution. Explicit agreement will be required from all involved HEIs to acknowledge the submission of a single code of practice to cover all institutions.

The code of practice must detail the relevant governance and consultation structures within all HEIs for identification of significant responsibility for research (SRR) (if institutions are not submitting 100 per cent of Category A eligible staff), identification of research independence, and the selection of outputs.

The processes applied to identify SRR and research independence, and to select outputs for submission should be consistent across all institutions, though we acknowledge that structures may differ slightly between institutions. Joint processes must be articulated clearly and must not compromise adherence with other areas of the code of practice that apply to either institution’s submission in other UOAs and overall.

If this applies to your institution please contact for more information.

If a member of staff goes on maternity leave, and is replaced for the period that they are away, could the outputs of the member of staff covering this maternity leave be submitted to REF 2021?

Staff employed to cover family-related leave (and any other equality-related leave) should be treated the same as any other staff member. That means that:

  • If they are employed by the HEI on the census date they are returned as a current member of staff (if they are eligible)
  • If they are no longer employed, the HEI can submit their outputs from that period, the same as they would with any former member of staff.

Please note, this is different from arrangements for secondments. More information on secondments can be found at 120c of the Guidance on Submissions.

Do we have to use the staff circumstances template provided by the REF team?

There is no obligation to use the staff circumstances template provided by the REF team, but we strongly suggest using this as the basis for collecting voluntary declarations of circumstances from your staff.

If a staff member has had a reduction of the minimum of one output applied, but subsequently produces an eligible output after the census date, can we include their output within our submission?

Yes, these outputs may be submitted. Where this is the case, institutions should amend their circumstances requests (REF 6a/6b) at the point of submission to adjust the overall number of outputs.


What will the ‘rounding methodology’ be, in determining the number of outputs for submission?

Rounding will be to the nearest whole number. Values ending in .5 should be rounded up.

Can outputs published while at a non-UK institution, or as an independent scholar, be submitted to REF 2021?

Yes, where they are within the publication period and meet any other applicable eligibility criteria, these outputs may be included in submissions by the institution employing the staff member on the census date.

Will part-time staff have to meet the requirement for a minimum of one output?

Yes. The minimum and maximum limits on the number of outputs will apply to the person, not their FTE.

What will happen if a unit does not submit the required number of outputs or case studies?

Each missing output or case study will receive an ‘unclassified’ score.

Will there be the possibility of generating discrete output sub-profiles?

Sub-panel 3 (Allied Health Professions, Dentistry, Nursing and Pharmacy) and Sub-panel 12 (Engineering) will provide discrete output sub-profiles against specified areas to the head of institution where requested. Details on how to request output sub-profiles in these UOAs can be found in the ‘Panel criteria’, Part 3, Section 1.

Does the REF assessment process distinguish between research outputs on the basis of mode of publication, place or publication or publisher?

No. The REF is governed by a principle of equity and is committed to the fair and equal assessment of all types of research and forms of research output.

Will approaches to double-weighting monographs be determined at main panel level?

Yes. As was the case in REF 2014, each main panel has provided guidance on how outputs of extended scale and scope are characterised in their disciplines, and on the process for requesting an output to be double-weighted.

Where an institution employs a member of staff on the census date, which of their outputs can be submitted?

For Category A submitted staff, outputs that are within the publication period and meet any other applicable eligibility criteria (for example, open access requirements) are eligible.

Can the outputs from one staff member be submitted to different units within the same institution?

No. An individual and their outputs can only be submitted to one unit of assessment. Where an individual holds a joint appointment across two or more submitting units within the same institution, the HEI must decide on one submission in which to return the individual.

Does each output for which double-weighting is requested need to have its own individual reserve output? Or can one submit a list of 'reserve outputs' (in order of preference) to cover several double-weighting requests?

It is our view that a ranked list would add greater complexity to the submission process for HEIs, in ensuring that the minimum and maximum boundaries are adhered to in the final set of assessed outputs. Institutions should therefore include a ‘reserve’ output for each output requested for double-weighting.

Will double-weighting outputs be optional?

Yes. The decision whether to request double-weighting lies with the submitting unit.

Will a double weighted item from a single individual count as two items of their five or one?

Where the double-weighting request is accepted, the output will count as two items against the individual to whom it is attributed. (If it is a co-authored output, institutions may attribute the output to a maximum of two members of staff returned within the same submission, in which case it will count as one output for each of them). If the panel does not accept the request, and the output remains single-weighted, it will count as one item.

Double-weighting requests should be made in accordance with the minima and maxima requirements for attributing outputs to staff, so that in the event the request is accepted, or in the event that it is not and the reserve output is instead assessed, the minimum of one requirement is met for each Category A submitted staff member (unless individual circumstances apply), and no more than five outputs are attributed to any one member of current or former staff.

What constitutes a ‘pre-print’ and when would these be eligible for submission to REF 2021?

An output first published in its final form during the REF 2021 publication period that was ‘pre-published’ in the previous publication period – whether in full in a different form  or as a preliminary version or working paper – is eligible for submission to the REF, provided that the ‘pre-published’ output was not submitted to REF 2014 by any institution.

When would the research produced by a research student be eligible for submission to REF 2021?

Outputs made publicly available while a Category A submitted staff member was a research student are eligible for submission with the exception of a thesis or dissertation. For impact, the research underpinning an impact case study must have been undertaken while the person was working in the submitting HEI; any research undertaken while the individual was a research student could not be submitted as underpinning research for impact case studies.

Are outputs produced for a PhD by publication eligible for submission to REF 2021?

The outputs from a PhD by publication can be submitted to REF 2021 by the HEI employing the staff member as Category A eligible on the census date. However, PhD theses and dissertations are not eligible for submission to REF 2021.

Open access

Will the 5% tolerance band be applied at UOA or institutional level?

The tolerance band will be applied at UOA level.

If a staff member who moved institution during the census period lodged an article in the repository of their previous institution, does this meet the open access requirements? Does the new HEI have to check that it is still in the repository?

If the staff member to whom the output is attributed was employed at a different UK HEI at the point of acceptance and the new HEI has not been able to determine compliance with the criteria, the output will not be required to meet the open access criteria.

Where an output was published at a previous institution, how much do HEIs need to do to identify whether an output is compliant or non-compliant with the open access policy?

Journal articles with an ISSN or conference contributions in conference proceedings with an ISSN produced by staff while they were at a former employer should not be returned as non-compliant with the REF 2021 OA policy requirements. These outputs may be out-of-scope if accepted for publication before 1st April 2016, or the submitting HEI may know that the output is compliant with the requirements. Otherwise the output should be returned with the exception outlined in paragraph 254a of the Guidance on Submissions.

Can the open access exception at paragraph 254a be used for outputs of former staff?

In-scope outputs produced by former staff may not use the exemption in paragraph 254a of the Guidance on Submissions (aka. the institution is submitting something from a staff member that has moved on). The output may have to be returned as non-compliant if it is in-scope and compliance cannot be demonstrated and another exception is not suitable.

Interdisciplinary research 

What is the definition of IDR?

For the purposes of the REF, interdisciplinary research is understood to achieve outcomes (including new approaches) that could not be achieved within the framework of a single discipline. Interdisciplinary research features significant interaction between two or more disciplines and/or moves beyond established disciplinary foundations in applying or integrating research approaches from other disciplines.

What role will the interdisciplinary advisers play on the panels?

All sub-panels will have at least two members appointed as interdisciplinary advisers. The interdisciplinary advisers will offer guidance to the sub-panels in their assessment of interdisciplinary outputs to enable their robust and valid assessment. This may include advising on the allocation of outputs and the calibration and moderation of scoring. Interdisciplinary advisers will not necessarily be expected to assess all interdisciplinary outputs submitted to their panel. The advisers will work in a network with their counterparts on other sub-panels. The network will meet at key points during the assessment phase and will provide a forum for reviewing joint working arrangements and identifying wider expertise requirements.


Do all the outputs referenced in an impact case study need to be of at least two-star quality?

A case study should include references to up to six research outputs that represent the body of research or a research project that was carried out at the submitting institution. These should be key outputs that underpinned the impact, and that best demonstrate the quality of the body of work or project. The sub-panels will not expect each individual output to meet the quality threshold, but will wish to be satisfied that the listed work was predominantly of at least two-star quality.

Can the same impact case study be submitted by more than one submitting unit?

Where more than one submitting unit made a distinct and material research contribution to an impact, each of those submitting units may submit a case study of the impact. Each submitting unit will need to show that its research made a distinct and material contribution to the impact. This applies whether an HEI wishes to submit the same impact in different submissions, or different HEIs.

Can an HEI submit an impact case study in a UOA, even if the individual who conducted the research is returned in a different UOA?

Yes, we recognise that individual researchers may undertake research across multiple disciplines over time and that UOA boundaries are not rigid. Provided the underpinning research is within the scope of the UOA in which it is submitted, a case study may be submitted in a different UOA from the individual.

Is it a requirement for impact case studies to be based on underpinning research carried out by a Cat A eligible staff member?

No. The underpinning research must be carried out by staff working in the submitting HEI and must be within the scope of the relevant UOA descriptor. It may include research undertaken by staff employed on non-Category A eligible contracts.

Can the same underpinning research can be used in more than one impact case study? And can these case studies be submitted within the same UOA?

Units are not prohibited from submitting more than one case study based on the same body of research. However, they should take into account the extent to which this might reduce the reach and significance of the impact described.

An Impact case study is being built around my work but I am hoping to move institutions. Can I bring my impact to date with me?

The institution submitting a case study must have produced research which has made a distinct and material contribution to the impact described in the case study. Where a researcher has moved to a different institution during the period in which a body of research underpinning a case study was produced, the submitting institution should make clear that the research undertaken during the period the researcher spent at that institution made a material and distinct contribution to the impact claimed.

Can publications that link to Impact Case Studies still be submitted as outputs?

Yes. Underpinning research referenced in a case study may also be included in a submission as an output (listed in REF2), without disadvantage. In these situations, the assessment of the impact case study will have no bearing on the assessment of the quality of the output.

Does the impact claimed need to be tied to an individual specific output within the body of work?

No. The panels recognise that the link between research and impact can be indirect and non-linear.


Are the qualifying dates for doctoral completions the same as the dates for income?

Yes. Data about research income and research doctoral degrees awarded must fall within the assessment period: 1 August 2013 to 31 July 2020.

What kinds of data can institutions provide in the environment statement? Can they include TEF and/or KEF data?

Institutions can provide any data that they consider appropriate as evidence for claims made in the statement. A working group of the Forum for Responsible Research Metrics was established to consider the types of data that institutions might select to include, and the group provided guidance to the panels. Guidance on the inclusion of quantitative data can be found here.

Some institutions might choose to merge smaller units or redistribute staff – will there be space in the environment statement to explain these decisions?

As in 2014, the environment template includes a section for submitting units to outline the ‘unit context and structure, research and impact strategy’, including how research is structured across the unit. The panels set out their expectations for the environment statement in the ‘Panel criteria’, Part 3, Section 5.

How will the panels use the new institutional-level statement in their assessment of the environment?

The sub-panels will use the information provided in the institutional-level statement to inform and contextualise their assessment of the relevant sections of the unit-level template. The institutional-level statement will not be separately assessed or separately scored by the sub-panels.

Are institutions able to include quantitative indicators in their environment statements that were ruled out by the Forum for Responsible Research Metrics?

Yes. The examples provided by the Forum are not intended to be prescriptive, or exhaustive. When including indicators, institutions should follow the eight principles set out in Annex A of the Forum’s guidance.


How and when will panel members for the assessment phase be appointed?

We intend to carry out a survey of institutional submission intentions during 2019 which will be used to inform the panel membership requirements for the assessment phase appointments. In early 2020, we will invite associations or organisations with a clear interest in the conduct, quality, funding or wider benefits of publicly funded research – except for mission groups, individual UK HEIs and groups within or subsidiaries of individual UK HEIs - to make nominations for the assessment phase panel membership.  The nominations will be considered by the panel chairs and the funding bodies to ensure that appointments reflect the diversity of the UOA subject disciplines.

What is the difference between sub-panel members and assessors?

Assessors are appointed to contribute to the assessment of particular aspects of submissions (e.g. outputs or impact) as requested by the sub-panel. Sub-panel members retain responsibility for producing the draft assessment outcomes for each submission as a whole and for recommending these to the main panel.