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Earliest REF 2021 submission deadline likely to be next spring

Image: Garry Knight [CC BY 2.0], via Flickr

Consultation on new REF 2021 timeline gives options of several deadlines

The earliest revised deadline for the Research Excellence Framework submission is likely to be the end of March next year, the REF team has said.

Kim Hackett, director of the REF, revealed that 31 March 2021 is the earliest deadline that is likely to be considered for submissions after the previous deadline of 27 November this year was put on ice due to the coronavirus.

On 21 April, Hackett told a webinar audience that a four-month delay was the shortest the team could consider. “I think it would be very challenging to do an even earlier one than that,” she said. Hackett was launching a consultation survey on revised REF deadlines.

Respondents to the consultation can back a single deadline of 31 March, a phased deadline starting with staff and outputs in March or a delay of six months or more for everything, as well as the chance to give their own ideas on what should happen next.

Last month the REF team revealed that the 2021 exercise had been put on hold as universities struggled with an increased strain on resources due to the coronavirus pandemic. Some high-profile figures, including the Labour Party’s shadow universities minister Emma Hardy, have called for the REF to be scrapped altogether

Speaking to Research Professional News after the webinar, Hackett stressed that while there was “no clear frontrunner” among the options up for consultation, “one of the risks” with the earlier 31 March deadline is that it could be pushed back if disruption from the pandemic lingers.

“We understand the arguments for going for a shorter delay…but there is a risk because we would need to take decisions at a point when we did not know the future,” she said, although there are “different pros and cons” around each option. While the submission deadline is up for discussion, the staff census date of 31 July this year will not be moved as a lot of work has already gone into it.

Hackett denied the exercise should be put on hold indefinitely or cancelled, explaining that preparation for the REF 2021 was in “the final furlong” and the exercise was “less problematic than discussing any alternative mechanism” for allocating funding.

Elsewhere, Research England’s head of REF policy Helena Mills said the current 31 July 2020 deadline for assessing the impact of research could be pushed back to 31 December. Another option would be to keep the 31 July deadline but allow a “case-by-case mitigation route” for studies that have been delayed.

However, Mills said submitting fewer impact case studies was unlikely to be an option as it would not be possible for the smallest units, and so it would be “inequitable” if rolled out across all submissions. “There are issues around reducing the number of impact case studies as a mitigating option,” she said.

The consultation on REF deadlines is open from 21 April to 12pm on 5 May. Responses will be published in late May.

This article was updated on 22 April to include comments from Kim Hackett.