UK presses ahead with REF in March 2021 after review

Despite a pandemic-induced pause in March, research funders have concluded that submissions are ‘broadly on track’ and will not push deadline back again

November 20, 2020
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UK research funding bodies have decided to press ahead with the country’s research excellence framework (REF), sticking with a submission deadline of 31 March next year.

The controversial assessment of research quality, carried out every six years to help determine university budgets, was paused for four months in March 2020, as the pandemic hit, and the deadline pushed back. 

There have been calls for the REF to be scrapped altogether as academics grapple with the upheaval of a switch to online teaching, but the UK’s four main funders announced on 20 November that it would go ahead in the spring, following a review of the situation in October.

Steven Hill, director of research at Research England and chair of the REF steering group, said in a statement that “in general we found evidence that submissions are progressing broadly on track for the revised March deadline”.

Institutions have put in place “contingency measures” to “further minimise the risks”, he said.

The four funding bodies – Research England, the Scottish Funding Council, the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales and the Department for the Economy in Northern Ireland – stressed in a statement that although the deadline was unchanged, they had “identified a further set of issues that will be kept under close review”.

There are “further steps are needed to mitigate specific issues identified”, they said, including “challenges” in preparing “hard copy outputs”.

Although the March 2021 deadline remains unchanged, the funders have already announced a series of exemptions to try to make sure academics hit by the pandemic will not be penalised.

For example, academics can be exempted from the need to submit a research output to the REF if they have suffered ill health themselves, taken on caring duties or been diverted to front-line healthcare.

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