UK higher education funding bodies publish final guidance and criteria for REF 2021

UK higher education funding bodies publish final guidance and criteria for REF 2021

31 January 2019

Research England has today published, on behalf of the UK’s four higher education funding bodies, the key guidance for UK universities on how to submit their research to the next Research Excellence Framework (REF).

This is a key stage in preparation for the REF, which is the system used by the UK’s higher education funding bodies to assess the quality of research in UK universities and inform how much public money is given to universities to support that research.

Research England manages the REF on behalf of the UK’s higher education funding bodies – Research England, the Scottish Funding Council, the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, and the Department for the Economy, Northern Ireland.

The REF takes place every seven years: the last one happened in 2014, and the next exercise will take place in 2021.

The results of REF 2021, due in December 2021, will be used by the higher education funding bodies to inform research funding for UK universities from the academic year 2022–23. This includes £1.6bn Quality-related Research (QR) funding Research England allocates to English universities annually. QR funding distributed to English universities from 2015 to 2022 is based on the results from REF 2014.

The assessment, made by expert panels of senior academics, also provides accountability for public investment in research.

Chair of the REF 2021 Steering Group, and Director of Research at Research England, Dr Steven Hill, said:

‘The research that takes place in UK universities is world-leading and has enormous economic and social impact on our country and the whole world. The Research Excellence Framework is key to ensuring that excellent research continues to be well supported wherever it is found in universities across the country, helping to deliver local as well as national and international benefits. It also ensures that public money goes where it will have the greatest impact. We are therefore very proud to be managing this key process on behalf of the four UK higher education funding councils. We are building on the successes of the previous assessment exercises and introducing key improvements, in response to feedback from those involved.’

The guidance published today has been developed by the REF’s expert panels and the four funding bodies following consultation with the HE sector in summer 2018. The changes from the last REF in 2014 to REF 2021 largely follow the recommendations set out in 2016 in an independent review led by Lord Stern.

The ‘Guidance on submissions’, the ‘Panel criteria and working methods’ and the ‘Guidance on the codes of practice’ are available on the REF 2021 website.


  1. The REF documents.
  2. What is the REF and what is it for?
  3. Research England shapes healthy, dynamic research and knowledge exchange in English universities. We are responsible for funding, engaging with and understanding these institutions, and working with devolved funding bodies and the Office for Students to understand their strategies, capabilities and capacity. We support and challenge universities to create new knowledge, strengthen the economy, and enrich society. We distribute over £2.2bn to universities in England every year in the form of quality-related research (QR) funding, and via the Higher Education Innovation Fund. We are responsible for administering the Research Excellence Framework, used to inform QR funding, and for delivering the forthcoming Knowledge Exchange Framework. We also support specific activities with dedicated project funding, including the £900m UK Research Partnership Investment Fund, and the £100m Connecting Capability Fund. The Higher Education and Research Act 2017 established Research England as a Council of UK Research and Innovation alongside the seven Research Councils and Innovate UK.