REF 2021 Deadline Reactions

After a prolonged period of anticipation among researchers, the submission deadline for 2021 Research Excellence Framework (REF) has been announced as 31 March 2021. This decision comes after months of uncertainty among researchers, after the original deadline of 27 November, 2020, was indefinitely postponed on account of the COVID-19 pandemic. This announcement is not completely unexpected: this deadline was trailed by the REF team during the consultation process. Nevertheless, this news has caused a bit of a stir among researchers, with opinions being greatly divided. While some members of the academic community have welcomed this decision, others have expressed discontent—with particular controversy around the extension of the impact census period to 31 December.

Researchers in favour of this announcement seem to believe that the decision has been made in good time. Prof. Dan Parsons, President of the Geomorphology Division (GM) of the European Geosciences Union, says, “This is a sensible and coherent outcome. The REF2021 submission window has been extended to March 2021 and impact window extended to the end of this year, but the census date remains the same”.

Some other researchers have also turned to social media to express their approval.

Dr Iain Coleman, research engagement manager at Impact Science, also welcomed the news. “It’s not a great surprise that the REF team have gone for this deadline. From their point of view, it is the least disruptive extension as it allows them to introduce the new QR allocation according to the existing schedule. It would have taken a strong backlash from the sector for them to extend the deadline further. The important thing is that the uncertainty is now over. Institutions, researchers and professional staff can now get on with their REF preparations according to this new timetable.”

However, a few others, who have expressed their displeasure over the announcement, believe that the new deadline is too stringent—particularly when the scientific community is still recovering from the ramifications of the global pandemic. The fact that the impact census period now ends only three months before the submission deadline has caused particular worry.

It is no surprise COVID-19 has put a damper on research across various disciplines, with several projects being halted temporarily. This has inevitably hampered the process of gathering evidence to showcase the impact of research, regardless of how significant it may be. To this end, not just researchers, even impact managers have expressed their concerns. Dr. Jim Caryl, a research consultant from Glasgow, says, “I find this decision to be slightly extraordinary given that evidence collection has become difficult at this time. By moving the census date, it crushes the evidence collection time and risks the doubling of workload for minimal gains”.

Iain Coleman, who was an impact manger in the run-up to REF 2014, is more optimistic. “Compared to the mad scramble of 2013, the preparation for impact submissions to REF 2021 is going much more smoothly, even with the current crisis. Universities have had time to set up processes and put resources in place, and there is more impact expertise available, both within universities and from external contractors. It’s now time to focus on strengthening case studies, achieving those last-minute impacts, and gathering the evidence of reach and significance.”


Talk to our REF Experts today! To book a consultation write to us at

Suggested reading: How our REF team at Impact Science supported London South Bank University with its expertise and experience in taking an innovative approach for REF 2021 preparations.

Editor’s Note: Authored by Avantika Deo with contributions by Dr. Iain Coleman.

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