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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.

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

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.

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.

How 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.


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.

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.

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.