REF 2021 - Impact FAQs

What is assessed in REF?

For each submission, three distinct profles will be assessed – output quality (60% of final score), impact (25% of final score) and environment (15% of final score).

How much of a University’s REF score do impact case studies count for?

Case studies that document the impact of academic research will account for 25% of a university’s score, up from 20% in the previous exercise

How is impact defined?

The UK funding bodies will work with the Treatment Councils to align their definitions of ‘academic impact’ and ‘wider impact’ for the purposes of REF 2021

Guidance on main panel definitions of impact for REF 2014 can be found . REF 2021 guidance is not anticipated to be significantly different. Draft panel criteria on impact for REF 2021 will be made available here when published (expected summer 2018)

What are the criteria for submitting an impact case study?

Impacts will remain eligible for submission by the institution or institutions in which the associated research has been conducted. Impacts should be underpinned by excellent research, with ‘excellent’ research continuing to mean the quality of the research is at least equivalent to 2*

The excellent research underpinning impact case studies must have been produced during the period 1 January 2000 to 31 December 2020 across all UOAs. This will apply to all case studies, including examples continued or developed from REF 2014. The impacts described in case studies must have occurred within the period from 1 August 2013 to 31 July 2020.

An extract from the REF 2014 Guidance on Submissions relating to impact can be found .

What is the relationship between research and impact?

The relationship between the underpinning research and impact from individual outputs is to be broadened to include a wider body of work or research activity.

A key recommendation of the Stern review was to ensure the REF could better capture the multiple and diverse pathways and mechanisms through which impact arises from a body of work, and through which real benefits to the UK and wider world are delivered. This aim was widely supported by respondents to the consultation, and the funding bodies will seek to implement this in the exercise, as follows:

  • Working with the panels to provide additional guidance on:
    • The criteria for impact of ‘reach and significance’.
    • Impact arising from public engagement.
  • Guidance on submitting impacts on teaching will be widened to include impacts within, as well as beyond, the submitting institution. Panels will also develop appropriate guidance on demonstrating evidence against the criteria for this type of impact

What is the assessment process for impact case studies?

The impact template will be included as an explicit section in the environment element of the assessment. The detailed guidance and criteria for this section will be developed as part of the wider development of the environment.

The impact case study template will be revised to include a set of mandatory fields, better to support the assessment and audit process. These will include prefatory material, including the case study title, as well as information relating to the time period and employment of staff involved in the associated research. The revised impact case study template will also include a section for additional contextual data to be provided in a standardised way (for example, the research funder, where applicable). This section will be mandatory, to enhance the quality and consistency of data provided, but the data will not be routinely provided to the panels.

Routine provision of audit evidence will be required (corroborating information underpinning the truth of the claim made in the case study) on submission. This will not be routinely provided to the sub-panels, but will be made available on panel request as part of the audit procedures.

Guidelines will be developed for the use and standard of quantitative data as evidence for impact, with a working group of the Forum for Responsible Treatment Metrics. This work will take into account concerns raised about the uneven applicability of such guidelines across types of impact and discipline areas, and the potential to create hierarchies of evidence inadvertently.

How many impact case studies will be required?

FTE of Category A submitted staffNumber of case studies
Up to 19.99 2
20 to 34.99 3
35 to 49.99 4
50 to 64.99 5
65 to 79.99 6
80 to 94.99 7
95 to 109.99 8
110 to 159.99 9
160 or more 10, plus one further case study per additional 50 FTE

What is the REF 2021 Impact Guidance?

 Taken from  and 


Can I submit an impact case study previously submitted to REF 2014?

Case studies continued from examples submitted in 2014 will be eligible for submission in REF 2021 subject to the following criteria:

  • All impact case studies submitted in REF 2021 will need to meet the same eligibility criteria, including the length of the window for underpinning research and the assessment period for the impact described
  • Submitting units will need to identify continued case studies in the case study template.
  • Continued or developed case studies will need to provide evidence of additionality to the example submitted in 2014. A set of general principles will be developed on this and will be tailored by discipline area by the panels.

Who will be involved in assessing impact case studies?

Sub-panels will be responsible for assessing outputs and impact. The assessment process will include designated individuals on panels to ensure that interdisciplinary research is assessed fairly.

What about the impact of the University as a whole?

HEFCE will not bring in a new element that measures the impact of each university as a whole for the next exercise. Instead, it will launch a pilot project on “institutional impact” to see how best to introduce this in the future

In addition, UoA level environment templates will include information on the units approach to enabling impact in the period, supporting collaboration and structures in place to support interdisciplinary research.