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The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is the system for assessing the quality of research in UK  higher education institutions (HEIs) replacing the previous Research Assessment Exercise (RAE).

REF is undertaken by the four UK higher education funding bodies. The purpose of the REF is to

  • Inform the selective allocation of research funding to HEIs      
  • Provide benchmarking information and establish reputational yardsticks      
  • Provide accountability for public investment in research and demonstrate its benefits.

REF 2021

The next REF exercise will be in 2021 with submission expected in late 2020.

The Initial Decisions on the REF 2021 were published on 1st September 2017 and the report can be downloaded below. The second set of decisions are anticipated in late autumn 2017. In the meantime, news and information can be found on the HEFCE blog, which frequently publishes articles relating to the REF.

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Initial Decisions on the Research Excellence Framework 2021

This document was published on 1st September 2017 and sets out the initial decisions by the funding bodies following consultation for the next REF exercise. Here you can download the document in PDF and Word formats. The document and accompanying circular letter and notes can also be viewed here, on the HEFCE website.

REF 2021 Proposed Timetable

Below you can see the proposed indicative timetable for REF 2021. You can click on individual lines for HEFCE news pertaining to those items.

1st August 2013Start period for income and impacts
1st January 2014Start of period for outputs
Noon on Friday 17th March 2017Consultation deadline
Mid-2017Publish initial decisions on the next REF
Mid-2017Appoint panel chairs

Autumn 2017

Invite nominations for panel members

Further decisions on the arrangements for submitting staff and outputs

Winter 2017-18

Appoint panels

Spring 2018

Panels meet to develop criteria

Summer to Autumn 2018

Publish draft guidance, and consultation on panel criteria

Winter 2018-19

Publish final guidance and criteria


Complete preparation of submission systems


Submission phase


Assessment phase

HEFCE Consultation on the second Research Excellence Framework

In December 2016 the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) published a document that set out the proposals of the four UK higher education funding bodies for the REF. The proposals sought to build on the first REF in 2014 and to incorporate Lord Stern’s Review of the REF. Responses  were invited from higher education institutions and groups/organisations with an interest in the conduct, quality, funding or use of research and the deadline was 17th March 2017. Here you can view and download the University of Salford’s submitted response.