Research Excellence Framework 2021

Information about the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021 and the methods of assessment


The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is the current system for assessing the quality of research in UK higher education institutions. We expect submissions for the next REF to close in November 2020 and results to 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, the next REF exercise, is considered by the UK's four 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


Early in 2017 the four Higher Education Funding Bodies set out proposals for the second REF (the first was REF2014) and invited views from Higher Education Institutes and other organisations with an interest in the conduct, quality, funding or use of research. The proposals were set out in a consultation document seeking to build on the structure of REF2014 and to incorporate the principles identified in Lord Stern's Independent Review of the REF.

Read Lord Stern's review of the REF 'Building on success and learning from experience'

Download the joint funding bodies' consultation document

You can read Leicester’s response to the Consultation


According to HEFCE’s current timetable (below), it expects to publish initial decisions on the next REF in mid-2017. You will be able to find details of these decisions here, as soon as they are made available.

Note that the outcome of Higher Education and Research Bill 2017 will see HEFCE replaced by Research England as a Council of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) in 2018. Research England will undertake England- only research and knowledge exchange functions including Research Excellence Framework exercises under the leadership of David Sweeney.

Proposed indicative timetable for REF 2021

1 August 2013 Start of period for income and impacts
1 January 2014 Start of period for outputs
17 March 2017 Consultation deadline
Mid-2017 Publish initial decisions on the next REF
Mid-2017 Appoint panel chairs
2018 Publish guidance on submissions and panel criteria
2019 Invite HEIs to make submissions
31 July 2020 End of assessment period (for research impacts, the research environment and related data)
November 2020 Closing date for submissions
31 December 2020 End of publication period for publication of research outputs and outputs underpinning impact case studies
2021 Assessment year
December 2021 Publication of outcomes
Spring 2022 Publication of submissions and reports


HEFCE has published a number of interesting REF-related blogs. 

Leicester REF updates

If you would like to be kept up to date with items of interest regarding REF2021, you can sign up for REF Alerts.

All back copies of the REFocus newsletters are also available.

Latest News

REF Main Panel Chairs announced

Further information

REF is being co-ordinated by the Research Strategy and Policy team in the Research and Enterprise Division. Contact details can be found to the right.

Further detail on our preparations will be disseminated in our REF newsletters and on these pages.

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Contacts for REF

Strategy and Policy Team

Juliet Bailey

Head of Strategy and Policy

Sarah Hall

Research Impact Strategy and Policy Manager

Steve Loddington

Research Strategy and Policy Manager

Lynne Parsons

Research Ethics and Environment Manager

Angharad Roberts

Research and Enterprise Systems and Information Specialist

Louise Thompson

Research Strategy and Policy Assistant