Skip to main content



You will find everything you need to know about how the University is preparing for REF 2021, and what you need to do on this page.

We have also developed a Simple Guide to REF2021 which provides an overview of the assessment and how we are preparing for it, as well as the REF2021 Planning and Deadlines Document which highlights key dates alongside Exeter's supporting actions.

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted REF2021 timelines. Much is still under discussion -- view the 'REF2021 timeline' document for the most recent updates on key dates. The new submission deadline is the 31st of March, 2021.

Although descriptions of REF procedures are still accurate in recordings and slides, key dates have changed due to Coronavirus.

An open session on "What is REF?" was held in September 2019. This provided an overview of REF 2021, processes and key dates. More specifically:

  • Our approach to REF
  • The researchers' to-do list
  • The staff eligibility procedure
  • The output selection procedure
  • How to report individual circumstances

Slides and a recording from the September event are available here.

Similar sessions had been held previously.

In July 2019 on "Independant Researcher Eligibility". Slides are available here Research-only session – Independent Researcher Eligibility - July 2019. The recording is available to view here.

In May 2019 on "What is REF?". Slides and a recording are available to view here.

In April 2019 on "What is REF?". Slides are available here - Code or Practice - Open Sessions April 2019


Although descriptions of REF procedures are still accurate in recordings, key dates have changed due to Coronavirus.‌

The UoE REF2021 Code of Practice was submitted to Research England for approval by the REF Equality and Diversity Advisory Panel. It was first submitted in June 2019 with a revised version submitted for final approval in September 2019.

The Code of Practice details the policies and processes which govern how the University will develop its REF submission. The UoE REF2021 Code of Practice focuses on:

  • Processes for understanding who is eligible to be submitted for REF and how that is determined (Section 2 and Section 3)
  • Processes for the selection of outputs, including those of former staff (Section 4)
  • Processes for reporting individual circumstances

The ‌ also includes other related documents and policies in the annexes:

  • Governance structures and membership
  • Roles and responsibilities for decision-making and key REF2021 recommendations
  • Appeals Policy and Process
  • Conflicts of Interest Policy
  • Confidentiality Policy
  • EDI Training policy and approach
  • Policy to determine UoA allocation
  • Approach to selecting Impact Case Studies
  • Determining Independent Researcher status: forms
  • Individual Circumstances Disclosure: form

 The REF planning process involves a range of activities and submissions relating to publications, impact activities and evidence articulation, the development and articulation of research strategies, compliance with REF-related research policies (e.g. Open Access) and the collation of specific types of research data.

‌‌Over the course of 2019 and 2020, specific information has been requested by Research England for the REF2021 submission. To support timely preparations, we have set our key ‌REF2021 Planning and Deadlines Document.

The University's annual Research Monitoring meetings will play an integral part of this preparation process.

If you would like to know more about your Unit of Assessment’s preparations, please contact your Director of Research.




Since June 2019, the REF team have been holding drop-in sessions as an opportunity for Directors of Research to discuss upcoming milestones, REF requirements and to share key REF information as it becomes available. The slides from these sessions are above.




Since July 2019, the REF team have been holding drop-in sessions as an opportunity for Directors of Research to discuss upcoming milestones, REF requirements and to share key REF information as it becomes available. The slides from these sessions are above.

Only members of staff who are recorded by the Higher Education Statistics Agency as having Education and Research, or Research-Only contracts, can be considered for REF2021 submission. All staff who meet the REF2021 definitions of having ‘significant responsibility for research’ or of being an ‘independent researcher’ must be submitted to REF. These staff are sometimes referred to as Category A Eligible staff.

As detailed in the Code of Practice, all staff on Education and Research (E&R) contracts at the University are deemed to have met the REF definition of having ‘significant responsibility for research’ and, therefore, ALL staff on E&R contracts must be returned in the submission. The processes for determining whether staff on Research-only contracts meet the REF2021 definition of ‘independent researcher can be found in the Code of Practice. ALL research-only staff who meet the definition of ‘independent researcher’ must be returned in the submission.

The University has undertaken a preliminary process for identifying independent researcher status and those who are currently eligible are being notified in January 2020. New staff who have joined since June 2019 or for whom further information about their eligibility is required will receive an email asking them to complete a form.

If you have any queries please contact or your Director of Research or Head of Department.

REF2021 Eligibility Review Group membership

The dedicated REF Eligibility Review Group oversees the review of Independent Researcher forms and using the information provided will inform individuals of their eligibility/ineligibility for the REF2021 submission.

The Eligibility Review Group is an independent group representing all of the colleges at the University of Exeter. It is guided only by Research England's instructions, and not by outputs or any other influences. Any information disclosed will only be seen by the REF Eligibility Review Group. The REF Eligibility Review Group meets periodically and consists of the following members:

  • Linda Peka (Chair) – Deputy Registrar, Chair of the University Inclusivity Group
  • Professor Andrew McRae – Dean of the Doctoral College 
  • Dorcas Cowan – Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Manager
  • Andrew Johnson – Assistant Director (HR Policy & Reward)
  • Professor Annette Broderick – Academic Member 
  • Professor Laura Salisbury – Academic Member 
  • Professor Obi Ukoumunne – Academic Member 
  • Professor Pete Vukusic – Academic Member 
  • Drs Astrid Wissenburg - Director of Research Services
  • Professor Nina Wedell (member of Panels C and D only)

 Eligibility Review Group Secretariat:

  • Kerry Hope - Deputy REF Manager
  • Dr Ruth Cooper - REF Policy Officer (Individual Circumstances)
  • Dr Sumi David - Head of Research and Impact (Policy & Performance)/REF Manager


The decisions of the REF Eligibility Review Group can be appealed if there has been a failure to follow the policies and/or procedures for determining researcher independence (found in the Code of Practice), or if there has been a failure to comply with the University’s legal responsibilities.

If you wish to appeal an eligibility decision made by the Eligibility Review Group, please refer to the REF Code of Practice. Appeals on the grounds of disagreement with the decision of the Eligibility Review Group, or on the basis of insufficient evidence having being submitted when the request was first put forward are not permitted. Appeals are also excluded from this process if they involve a matter which is currently subject to litigation or legal proceedings; if the matter has previously been through the appeals procedure in line with this policy and has been closed; or if appeals are made by staff with a role capable of determining the shape of a submission.

Appeals should be made in writing to by 31st October 2020.

Individual circumstances process

Staff who are eligible for submission to REF2021 are invited to voluntarily declare relevant circumstances using the declaration of individual staff circumstances online form.

Guidance for filling out the online form can be found here:
REF2021 Guide for Filling In the Individual Circumstances Form.

Guidance for Heads of Department, Directors of Research and Line Managers can be found here:
Leadership Guidance for REF2021 Individual Circumanstances.


A dedicated REF Eligibility Review Group will oversee the review of the forms and using the information provided will inform UoAs of qualifying output reductions. It may be necessary to request further information or clarification from an individual, the disclosure of any further information will also be on a voluntary basis. 

Any information disclosed will only be seen by the REF Eligibility Review Group. No information will be passed to Colleges or line managers.

The REF Eligibility Review Group will meet periodically and consists of the following members:

Linda Peka (Chair) – Deputy Registrar, Chair of the University Inclusivity Group

Professor Andrew McRae – Dean of the Doctoral College 

Dorcas Cowan – Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Manager

Andrew Johnson – Assistant Director (HR Policy & Reward)

Professor Annette Broderick – Academic Member 

Professor Laura Salisbury – Academic Member 

Professor Obi Ukoumunne – Academic Member 

Professor Pete Vukusic – Academic Member 

Drs Astrid Wissenburg


If you have any concerns or questions regarding this process, please contact the team –

To be updated with new deadlines after the 31st of July. 

Research outputs count for 60% of the overall quality rating for each Unit of Assessment (UoA).

There is an established tariff, based on the number of FTE submitted to a UOA, for the number of outputs that must be submitted. For every 1.0 FTE submitted, 2.5 outputs are required. A member of staff is eligible if they meet the REF definition of having ‘significant responsibility for research’ or the REF definition of “independent researcher”. Each member of staff submitted will have one output attributed to them, and no single member of staff can have  more than five outputs attributed to them. Our policies on eligibility and how outputs will be selected can be found in our Code of Practice.

Former University of Exeter staff employed during the eligible period and who meet the eligibility criteria should also be returned alongside appropriate outputs.

Outputs are assessed on the basis of ‘Originality’, ‘Rigour’ and ‘Significance’. The University’s annual Research Monitoring exercise plays an integral role in supporting the review and selection of outputs for REF.

In recognition of the effect individual circumstances can have on researcher productivity, and therefore their ability to contribute to the pool of outputs at the same rate as other staff, the requirement of a minimum of one output might be waived for those with complex circumstances. The reporting of individual circumstances can, in exceptional cases, also result in the entire UoA having a reduction to the total number of outputs that it needs to submit.

For REF2021, Research England introduced an Open Access policy against which all journal articles and conference proceedings published since 1 April 2016 are required to be compliant, although some exceptions are possible. For details of the policy and how you might get funding to support Open Access publishing please see the ORE website.


How to nominate outputs in Symplectic? 

Please, follow the step-by-step guide.


To be updated with new deadlines after the 31st of July.

For the purposes of the REF, impact is defined as an effect on, change or benefit to the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life, beyond academia.

Impact case studies

The Impact element of REF will carry a weighting of 25 per cent of the overall assessment. The number of case studies required in each UoA submission will be determined by the number (full-time equivalent) of staff returned in the submission. If a submission includes fewer than the required number of case studies, a grade of unclassified will be awarded to each required case study that is not submitted. Submissions may not include more than the required number of case studies.

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted REF2021 timelines. Much is still under discussion -- view the 'REF2021 timeline' document for the most recent updates on key dates.

Each Impact case study is designed to capture: 

  • The nature and extent of specific impact occurring during the reporting period - 1 August 2013 to 31 July 2020. This should include a clear explanation of both the impact’s reach and its significance. 
  • An outline of specific research-based activity within the unit that contributed to the impact, and an explanation of how it made a contribution
  • Details of the underpinning research, produced by the submitting unit in the period 1 January 2000 to 31 December 2020, and justification that this was of high quality.
  • Evidence to corroborate the claims made

Impact case study guidance is an extremely important resource to help you complete this section. The University has developed an overview of how to write an Impact case study and outlined the Best Practice for this.

In addition, a template for writing Impact case studies, is available in the REF Draft Guidance on Submissions (view Annex G, page 113)

Examples of Impact indicators

For more information on this please see Annex A, page 94 of the REF Consultation on the draft panel criteria and working methods. Please also see the REF Impact evidence taxonomy.

To be updated with new deadlines after the 31st of July.

The environment element of the REF will count for 15% of the overall quality rating and will be assessed in terms of a UoA’s 'vitality and sustainability', including its contribution to the vitality and sustainability of the wider discipline or research base during the assessment period (1 August 2013 to 31 July 2020).

Typically, the Director of Research for each UoA will co-ordinate and complete a template that covers the following areas:

  • Section 1: Unit context and structure, research and impact strategy
  • Section 2: People
  • Section 3: Income, Infrastructure and facilities
  • Section 4: Collaboration and contribution to the research base, economy and society

View the guidance referring to the template.

A copy of the unit-level environment template and an environment template checklist can be found on the REF/Research Monitoring SharePoint website. This site can only be accessed UoA Directors of Research (DoR) and Heads of Department. If you are contributing to developing your UoA’s Environment template, please ask your DoR to contact to give you access to this site.

National consultation on COVID-19 related changes

In light of the COVID-19 Pandemic, Research England are consulting on possible changes to the assessment framework. An initial survey on the submission deadline and impact case study activity deadline was completed on 5th May 2020 with outcomes expected at the end of May 2020. Further consultation is expected. The University of Exeter’s response to the initial survey can be read here

Exeter involvement in the assessment process

A number of University of Exeter academics have been appointed members of REF 2021 main panels and of the 34 subject-based units of assessment. 

Further appointments to the panels will be made later in the process (in 2020) to ensure the sub-panels have an appropriate breadth of expertise and volume of panel members necessary for the assessment phase. Universities are not able to nominate individuals as panel members or assessors – these are nominated by a prescribed list of nominating bodies.

Internal consultation on the Exeter REF 2021 Code of Practice

As part of the process, all universities are required to submit a Code of Practice for REF 2021. This Code of Practice sets out the policies and processes that we will use for the assessment and outlines our commitment to ensure the fair and transparent identification of eligible staff and outputs for our REF submission. The University of Exeter REF 2021 Code of Practice was submitted on 7 June 2019.

We have taken a collaborative approach to the development of this Code of Practice and to ensure our approach is collective, we invited colleagues to comment on the proposal. There was also opportunity to submit responses to background questions. These responses informed the development of the Code of Practice as well as the development of our Equality Impact Assessment (EIA).  

If you have any questions about this consultation and the development of the Code of Practice, please contact Dr Sumi David

National consultation on Draft Guidance and Panel criteria

Draft panel criteria and guidance on submissions publications was developed in 2018 by the UK’s four higher education funding with advice from the REF expert panels. This set out the detailed requirements for submissions to REF 2021. Consultation responses were invited from any higher education institution, association, organisation or individual with an interest in the conduct, quality, funding or use of research. Within the University, we carried out our own internal consultation to inform our response, and this was submitted in October 2018.

To protect against direct or indirect discrimination, the University has an Equality Analysis process that helps consider the effects of policy, process or decision on anyone identifying with protected characteristics*.

Consultation with staff and students is imperative to the Equality Analysis process. It is important to liase with staff and students from different backgrounds in order to effectively meet the needs of the diverse groups of people at the University. By capturing this feedback, we hope to guide and appraise policy formation within the University. 

Please visit the Code of Practice and Equality Analysis document for more information. Click here to respond to the Equality Analysis survey. 


*Protected characteristics as identified by the Equality Act 2010 are age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation.

For details of the governance arrangements for the development of the University’s REF2021 submission, and the membership of groups, please see the Code of Practice.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Research & Impact, Professor Neil Gow has overall responsibility for the University’s REF2021 submission. Other decision making bodies include:

  • The Vice-Chancellor’s Executive Group (VCEG)
  • The Research and Impact Executive Group
  • The University Research Monitoring Panel

The University of Exeter’s preparations at an institutional level are also supported by the REF Strategic Advisory Group and the REF Project Management Group.

REF-referenced Equality, Diversity, and Inclusivity Uncouscious Biais training

As indicated in our REF2021 Code of Practice, and as required by the REF Equality and Diversity Advisory Panel, we are providing training to support our REF-related decision making.

As mentioned in the Code of Practice, this training is mandatory for all REF decision-makers.

There will be online training on unconscious bias available as well. It will be focused on more generic aspects of unconscious bias to complement the focus on research assessment within this face-to-face training. 


REF submission training system for Directors of Research

In order to prepare for REF submission and for review and selection, the REF and the IT teams of Exeter delivered tailored training for Directors of Research and any others who might have been involved in supporting Directors of Research on how to use the REF submission module and an introduction to REF’s own portal.  

This 1.5 hour workshop focused on: 

  • How to select outputs within the REF module 

  • How to attribute outputs to individuals 

  • How outputs metadata can be included (e.g. contributor descriptors) 

We also used the opportunity to introduce the following: 

  • The updated REF modelling tool on Cognos 

  • Research England’s own REF submission portal 


REF training for College Administrators

We provide training to our College administrators in processes around checking data in preparation for the REF submission.

Training documents and guidances can be found on the SharePoint homepage here.


REF Symplectic training for College Administrators

This Symplectic training workshop complements the REF Symplectic Training for College Admin. 

This 1.5 hour workshop focuses on where to do the requested admin checks on Symplectic, how to use the bulk actions, and how to nominate on Symplectic. We also use this opportunity to introduce COGNOS.

Training documents and guidances can be found on the SharePoint homepage here.

To offer some choice, we have scheduled four possible dates. If you wish to attend, please register for one of the sessions below:

Monday 6th July 10:30 – 12.00

Friday 10th July 13:00 – 14:30

Thursday 16th July 14:30 – 16:00

Monday 17th August 13:30 – 15:00


If you wish to have more information about our training sessions, please contact the REF team

The University of Exeter (the "University") is a data controller and is committed to protecting your personal data and working in accordance with all relevant data protection legislation.

The University’s Research Services Directorate, specifically the Research and Impact (Policy and Performance) team (RIPP or REF team) captures and detains data in order to submit them to the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021. This is the UK’s system for assessing the quality of research in UK higher education institutions, and it takes place every 6-7 years.

What data do we hold?

The submission will contain a common set of data comprising:


  • Information on all staff in post with significant responsibility for research on the census date, including information on individual circumstances.
  • Details of outputs produced in the submitted unit during the publication period or by those employed on the census date that fall within the publication period.
  • Impact Case studies describing specific examples of impacts, the nature of the related underpinning research and underpinning evidence corroborating the impact. See also the Impact Case Study privacy notice relating to external partners or those providing corroborating evidence.
  • Data about research doctoral degrees awarded, research income and related income-in-kind.
  • An institutional-level environment statement, and a completed template for each Unit of Assessment describing the submitted unit’s research and impact environment.
  • Documentation, policies and procedures at Department-, College- and University-level.
  • Working document supporting the preparations for the REF2021 submission.


How do we use your data?

The data will be held by the University of Exeter’s REF team, and your data will be used and stored for the purpose of the REF2021 submission and in compliance with the Research Services data retention policy. Data will be reviewed by ad hoc REF-specific internal governance structures. University of Exeter will also store the data you have provided, to assist Research England who administer REF2021 with any auditing queries they may have. Your data will be kept in accordance with GDPR law and our retention schedule.

How do we protect your data?

Your data is held securely on secured network drives and the University’s internal databases. Access to the secured network drives and databases is restricted to University staff who are undertaking REF2021 related roles with access granted based on their specific remit, role and responsibilities. All staff who access the secured network drives and databases have completed the University’s data protection training.

Dedicated procedures had been set up to ensure an extra care in dealing with confidential materials including personal data, data relating to individual circumstances or eligibility and, where relevant, confidential impact case studies or outputs.

How long do we keep your personal information?

We may retain your personal information for the assessment and audit phases of the REF2021 submission (November 2021), or for two cycles of the national REF exercises (i.e. potentially 2028). If you want to know how long we keep your information, please write to our Data Protection Officer. Or for more information, please consult ourResearch Services retention scheme.

Your rights and legal basis

We ensure we maintain the Confidentiality, Integrity and Availability to University information as well as compliance with relevant legislation including:


  • The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR),
  • The Data Protection Act 2018 (DPA2018),
  • The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).


This Privacy Notice will be kept under review. Any changes will be updated on our website This Privacy Notice was last updated in January 2020.

You have the right to:

  • Ask us to see, correct or delete the data we hold about you
  • To request access to any data about you
  • Object to specific data uses, as described above

The University’s Data Protection Officer is responsible for monitoring compliance with relevant legislation in relation to personal data and can be contacted at, you can also contact the DPO if you have any queries or concerns about the University’s processing of your personal data. You have the right to lodge a complaint with the Information Commissioner’s Office.

For more information on any of the above or the REF in general, please contact the University of Exeter REF team on

All the latest information on REF 2021 can be found on the Research England REF website

You can also view our University of Exeter – Simple Guide to REF2021

In addition, presentations and recordings from previous Open Sessions held at the University are available in our useful info section.