SFC news published since 2018. See SFC archived content for earlier news articles.

The UK’s exercise for assessing research excellence in universities, the Research Excellence Framework (REF), recommences on 31 July 2020. This follows a four-month pause due to COVID-19. The recommencement is accompanied by new guidance, describing revisions to the exercise made in view of the altered timetable and to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 on universities’ submissions.

The recommencement of REF 2021 marks the start of the countdown to the revised submission deadline of midday, 31 March 2021, following a period during which the exercise was on hold in response to COVID-19.

To support universities in the final stages of submission preparation, following the pause period and COVID-19 disruption experienced, the four UK higher education funding bodies that conduct the REF have agreed the final set of revisions to the timetable and guidance. They have also provided preliminary advice on putting in place contingency arrangements for REF submission preparation.

Informed by responses to surveys on REF revisions, the Guidance on revisions to REF 2021 (REF 2020/02) describes the changes both to the overall timetable, as well as the guidance that aims to take account of the effects of COVID-19.

Alongside that publication, the Advice on contingency planning (REF 2020/03) provides some points of advice for universities to consider, in order to minimise further disruption to the preparation of REF submissions.

The funding bodies’ decisions on the REF timetable and revisions were informed by advice from the expert panels and engagement with the higher education sector and partners between April and July. This included surveys on the best timing for the revised submission deadline, and on revisions to the assessment framework that could help to take account of the effects of COVID-19 on REF submissions. Effects on submissions include delays and disruption to planned submission data, as well as to the process of preparing submissions itself.