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1. I am writing to all higher education institutions (HEIs) planning to make a submission to the 2021 Research Excellence Framework (REF 2021) who may intend to:

  • make multiple submissions within a unit of assessment
  • except a small unit from submission
  • submit impact case studies requiring security clearance.

2. HEIs intending to include any of these within their submissions must request permission to do so, from 11 April 2019, and no later than midday on 6 December 2019.

3. The REF team will consider these requests at three set cut-off points. The REF team will respond to these requests within six weeks of each date, as set out below:

Cut-off point (noon)

Feedback by

30 May 2019

11 July 2019

20 September 2019

1 November 2019

6 December 2019

17 January 2020

4. Each HEI is required to group its requests and may make only one set of requests for each type. However, HEIs are not required to submit all requests across the three types at the same point. That is, all requests for e.g. multiple submissions must be made by the same cut-off point but the HEI does not have to submit its requests for small unit exceptions or impact case studies requiring security clearance at the same time as its requests for multiple submissions.

5. We will inform HEIs of the outcomes of requests for multiple submissions and small unit exceptions via the submission system. Decisions relating to impact case studies requiring security clearance will be sent to the designated REF institutional contact.

Requests for multiple submissions

6. As set out in the ‘Guidance on submissions’ (REF 2019/01), each HEI will normally make one submission in each unit of assessment (UOA). They may exceptionally, and only with prior permission from the REF director, make more than one submission (multiple submissions) in the same UOA. These exceptions are set out in Part 2, paragraph 73 of the ‘Guidance on submissions’ and further panel-specific guidance can be found in Part 2, paragraphs 172-186 of the ‘Panel criteria and working methods’ (REF 2019/02).

7. HEIs are invited to submit requests for multiple submissions from 11 April 2019, and by 6 December 2019 at the latest, via the REF 2021 submission system. HEIs should complete a single, separate request for each UOA in which they would like to make multiple submissions. However, for multiple submission requests that cite the exception set out in paragraph 73c of the ‘Guidance on submissions’ (where HEIs have merged after 1 July 2018), one request for multiple submissions in all UOAs may be made.

8. The REF director, in consultation with the relevant main and sub-panel chairs, will consider requests for multiple submissions according to the published criteria. Where necessary, the REF team may request further information from the HEI.

9. The HEI will not be bound to making multiple submissions that have been approved, and may choose to make a single submission.

10. Where an HEI does not submit a request for multiple submissions by 6 December 2019, or where a submitted request is not approved, only one submission will be permitted in a UOA.

Requesting an exception from submission for small units

11. As set out in the ‘Guidance on submissions’, HEIs will normally submit all eligible staff they employ with significant responsibility for research, organised into submitting units as appropriate to the research structures within that HEI. They may exceptionally, and only with prior permission from the REF director, request an exception from submission for very small units. These exceptions are set out in Part 2, paragraphs 69-70 of the ‘Guidance on submissions’.

12. HEIs are invited to submit requests for exceptions from submission for small units from 11 April 2019, and by 6 December 2019 at the latest, via the REF 2021 submission system. If an HEI wishes to request an exception for more than one unit, a separate application will be required for each request.

13. The REF director will decide on all such requests in consultation with chairs of the relevant main and sub-panels. Where necessary, the REF team may request further information from the HEI. The REF director will consider all requests received by each of the three cut-off points (see paragraph 3 above), and will contact the designated REF institutional contact within six weeks of the cut-off point to inform them of the outcome of the request.

14. Requests for submission exceptions are not binding. An HEI may decide to return the unit where they have been given approval for an exception.

15. Where an HEI does not submit a request for exception from submission by 6 December 2019, or where a submitted request is not approved, the HEI will be required to submit all eligible staff with significant responsibility for research whom they employ in that UOA.

Request to submit impact case studies requiring security clearance

16. As set out in Part 2, paragraph 308 of the ‘Guidance on submissions’, there may be specific instances where research has had impacts of a sensitive nature and the material to be included in an impact case study can only be made available to individuals with national security vetting clearance. This may relate to the underpinning research, the nature of the impact, or both. HEIs must request advance permission to submit such case studies.

17. HEIs are invited to submit these requests from 11 April 2019 and no later than 6 December 2019 via the REF submission system. A separate request should be made for each impact case study requiring security clearance.

18. The REF director, in consultation with the relevant main and sub-panel chairs, will consider requests to submit impact case studies requiring security clearance according to the published criteria. The REF director will consider all requests received by each of the three cut-off points (see paragraph 3 above), and will contact the designated REF institutional contact within six weeks of the cut-off point to notify them of progress in dealing with the request. In order for the necessary arrangements to be made, the REF team may need further time before responding.

19. Where permission is granted, arrangements will be made for the HEI to make the case study available securely to the appropriate panel members and/or assessors. Only the outline information will be made available to the panel and no details about these case studies will be published.

20. HEIs should allow sufficient time for such case studies to go through the relevant organisations’ internal release processes.

Method of submission

21. All requests must be made via the REF 2021 submission system. Instructions on how to register for the system will be sent out to HEIs w/c 8 April 2019.

22. Requests for multiple submissions and small unit exceptions should be made via the relevant web form on the REF submission system. Template forms are included at Annexes A and B to enable HEIs to gather the required information ahead of the launch of the submission system on 11 April 2019.

23. Requests relating to impact case studies requiring security clearance should be made using the form at Annex C. All requests of this nature should be saved as PDFs and uploaded as a single zip file to the submission system.

Support and guidance

24. Please direct policy queries to [email protected] and technical or system queries to [email protected].