The current release of the system will allow universities to enter data in all REF submission forms, in advance of the submission deadline in November 2020. The system development has been informed by survey feedback provided by institutions at the end of the pilot phase of the software.
The final remaining aspects of the system will be developed according to the published timetable and the system will continue to be monitored and updated in response to user feedback.
Versions of the system have been released as it has developed, on a regular basis since mid-2019. Institutions have already begun using the submission system, including to provide responses to the recent survey of submission intentions, and to enter information ahead of the upcoming deadline to submit requests to reduce the number of outputs required in submissions on the basis of equality-related circumstances.
Ensuring the security of the data that will be collected through the REF 2021 submission system is a central part of the system development work. Alongside the launch, the REF team has published a report from recent security testing.
The results show the security of the system itself is at an excellent level. The behaviour vulnerability testing (phishing) conducted as part of this work was significant in raising awareness of the risks of cyber attack among REF system users. The results underline the need for continued action in raising this awareness, as just over a quarter of sampled users followed a spurious link, and around three quarters of those went on to provide their credentials. While the results are average for the sector, the REF team are providing additional guidance to support and educate submission system users around these risks and further assure system security.
The launch of the system is accompanied by a letter to Heads of institutions inviting them to make their submissions to REF 2021. The letter includes details on the submission process, and on the arrangements for collecting information related to the equality and diversity measures in place for REF.