REF2021 FAQs


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REF is the process overseen by the UK Government but led by discipline specific panels of academics to assesses University research outputs and impact case studies. The purpose is to allocate UK Government research funding. The previous REF was in 2014.

Each university submits a REF return made up of three elements: Research outputs, Impact Case Studies, and a narrative about the research Environment. Expert review panels assess each research outputs and award a grade based on a four point scale from 1* to 4* (and unclassified). Research Outputs, Impact Case Studies and Environment narratives are collated into a Unit of Assessment (UoA) such as Sociology or Law, which is in turn awarded an overall assessment.

The guidelines and criteria panels use to assess research outputs will be published in 2018 / 19. You can find the Government REF21 webpages here.

The University Code of Practice governing decision making around staff eligibility, research output and impact case study selection will be documented and published in 2018. The main purpose of the Code of Practice is to ensure decision making is fair, consistent and auditable.

It is the set of policies and processes the University follows to ensure decision making is fair, consistent, and auditable. It ensures that the process conforms to the University’s Equality and Diversity policies, and sets out how individual circumstances will be managed. Go here to read the University's REF14 Code of Practice. The REF21 Code of Practice will be drafted during 2018 and the final version published in Spring 2019.

Your first port of call is the main REF contact in your Department. For general REF questions and queries (including FAQ requests), please get in touch with Sam Sneddon, the Head of Research, Impact and Engagement. If you have any questions about impact, please email Aileen Marshall-Brown, the Division's Senior Research Impact Facilitator.


  • The number of Impact Case studies each UoA submits is determined by the number of staff submitted. Work is already underway to long-list potential Impact Case Studies.
  • The Division is supporting departments to create and review long-lists and will provide you with support if you are asked to write one. Please contact our Senior Impact facilitator, Aileen Marshall-Brown, for more information.
  • The impacts described in case studies must have occurred within the period from 1 August 2013 to 31 July 2020.
  • The research underpinning impact case studies (at least 2*) must have been produced during the period from 1 January 2000 to 31 December 2020. 
  • If you are asked to develop your impact case study then you will need to collect evidence that corroborates your impact narrative. This could take many forms depending on the impact you are describing, including data, testimonials, emails, reports, citations in public records. 
  • The University has invested in an impact module for Symplectic, to enable you to add records describing the impacts you have had, and store / collate evidence. 
  • Please contact the Division's Senior Research Impact Facilitator Aileen Marshall-Brown for more information and support with impact evidence, collection and storage.
  • Between one and five outputs are required for each person submitted in REF21.
  • There are exceptional circumstances if you don't have one research outputs (see below).
  • The number of research outputs a UoA can must include in a return is the people multiplied by 2.5, i.e. on average each person in a UoA return must submit 2.5 research outputs. Obviously, we aim to maximise the number of 4* research outputs. 
  • The process for selecting Outputs will be determined by your UoA and Department in accordance with the University Code of Practice.

'Exceptional circumstances'? 

The University will put in place a confidential process for recognising that some potentially eligible staff may not, for entirely justifiable reasons, meet the minimal research output requirement. This process will be defined and consulted on over the coming year, and will become part of the University's Code of Practice. The 2014 Code of Practice can be read here.


1. Eligibility period
  • To be eligible, research outputs need to have been published between 1 Jan 2014 and 31 Dec 2020. 
2. Open Access (concerning journals and conference papers only)
  • Your final peer-reviewed journal article or conference paper (with ISSN) must have been deposited in ORA (via Symplectic) within three months of receiving a notice of acceptance. In other words, 'Act on Acceptance'.
  • Act on Acceptance applies to all journal articles and conference papers (with an ISSN) accepted for publication since 1 April 2016. It does not apply to monographs, book chapters, other long-form publications, working papers, creative or practice-based research outputs, or data. Nor does the policy apply to those particular output types that are delivered confidentially for security or commercial reasons.
  • If you do not meet this deadline, your research may be non-compliant. So please do Act on Acceptance
  • More details Open Access FAQs can be found here.


Co-authored work can be submitted in addition to five outputs if submitted under the name of co-author. An individual can submit no more than five outputs for assessment as lead author.

Yes, if...

  •  If your research output was published prior to joining Oxford and you employed by the University at the census date (31/07/2020), then Oxford and the institute where your research was 'demonstrably generated' can both submit it. 
  • The standard eligibility criteria still apply: that your research must have been first made publicly available between 1 January 2014 and 31 December 2020.

if eligible, yes

You are eligible if: 
  • you have a contract with the University on 31 July 2020 (REF census date), AND
  • you have a 0.2 FTE or greater contract with Oxford; AND
  • you have a significant responsibility for research AND you are an independent researcher, i.e. not research assistants. 

The University is in the process of establish the potential pool of eligible staff, and drafting the Code of Practice for determining eligibility based on the Government's REF21 rules. 

If you meet the eligibility requirements you will be submitted. Unlike REF14 when the University was selective, 100% of eligible staff will be submitted in REF21, i.e. there is no staff selectivity.

A grouping by academic discipline of staff, research outputs, and impact case studies, along with an environment narrative. All staff are submitted in a UoA such as Law, Politics and International Studies, or Sociology. You can see the full list here.

  • The University will appoint a UoA Coordinator with overall responsibility for that UoA's REF submission.
  • Once returned to Government, each UoA submission is assessed by a panel of experts covering the range of sub-disciplines. Panel members nominate themselves, and are selected by the sub-panel chair. The full list of chairs can be viewed here.

For the vast majority of staff a Unit of Assessment maps to a Department - see here for UoA details. Some eligible staff, however, do not map so simply. Interdisciplinary units, such as Oxford Internet Institute) do not simply map to a single UoA, meaning staff will be assigned to UoAs which fit their academic fields. Guidelines and a process for assigning eligible staff will be developed and shared.

Oxford can still include your research in our REF submission if it was first made publicly available between 1 January 2014 and 31 December 2020. If on the census date (31/07/20) you are employed by another Higher Education Institution then your new employer AND Oxford can submit your research output, so long as Oxford can show that it was 'demonstrably generated' here.


Individual researcher REF assessment results are not published anywhere.