Research and knowledge exchange

REF2021: Code of Practice

We have developed a REF2021 Code of Practice, which sets out how the University will prepare for the Research Excellence Framework.

The University of Sussex REF2021 Code of Practice sets out how the University will prepare and make its submission to REF2021 in a fair and transparent way, in line with Research England's requirements and the University's own policies and values. Please note this was updated in October 2020 to reflect Covid disruption and revised REF timescales.

Research England approved this Code of Practice in October 2020. 

What is the REF?

The REF affects the University of Sussex’s reputation and future income. The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is the UK’s national system to assess the research of British Higher Education institutions. It is organised by Research England, which is part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

It determines the distribution of core research funding (‘Quality-Related’, or QR, Funds) to UK universities, and has a significant effect on their reputations.

UK universities will submit to the next REF (REF 2021) in March 2021, with material representing the quality and impact of their research since 2014.

Is REF2021 different to REF2014?

There is continuity; there are also some significant differences.

Whereas in REF2014 universities were selective in whose work they included, for REF2021 universities are required to submit research outputs representing the work of all staff who have significant responsibility for research, and who are employed on the census date of 31 July 2020.

Another difference is the greater flexibility in how many outputs are submitted per person. For REF2021, a minimum of one and a maximum of five outputs per person may be submitted.

Why is there a REF Code of Practice, and what is it?

The Code of Practice sets out how the University will prepare for the REF and decide on the contents of its submission in a fair, accurate and appropriate way, whilst complying with Research England’s requirements and rules.

Research England requires that every university submitting to the REF produces a Code of Practice. Much of the structure and content of the Code of Practice is pre-determined by Research England, and consists of commitments from the University to follow the rules. However, on certain aspects the University has more substantive choices over the content.

Who produced this Code of Practice?

A Working Group of Senate oversaw the production of the document, with input from elected academic members of Senate, the Deputy Pro-Vice-Chancellor (REF2021), Director of Research and Enterprise, Director of Human Resources, and REF Academic and Operational Manager.

Senate then approved the original document for submission to Research England in June 2019. 

What are the key issues in the Code for staff to be aware of?

  • Staff eligibility and significant responsibility for research: Research England requires that universities submit to the REF all staff who are on a teaching and research contract and who have significant responsibility for research. Universities have a choice to a) declare that all staff on a teaching and research contract have significant responsibility for research, or b) declare that only some of these staff have significant responsibility for research, and provide evidence to demonstrate where this is the case. Sussex has decided to adopt option (a), an inclusive approach that recognises the reality of a research-intensive university.
  • Inclusion of outputs by research-only staff who are independent researchers: Research-only staff who act as ‘independent researchers’ are also eligible (and required) for REF submission. Research England provide guidance on how an ‘independent researcher’ is to be defined, and the draft Code describes how this guidance will be interpreted and implemented at Sussex.
  • Appeals processes: Staff will have the right to appeal the University's view of whether or not they hold significant responsibility for research, and (for research-only staff) whether or not they are employed as  an independent researcher. (It’s important to note that these decisions are intended as recognition of the nature of an individual’s employed role at Sussex, not as a judgement on their performance in that role or an account of activities beyond the scope of their employment.)
  • Measures to support equality and diversity in the submission: Research England have substantial requirements for how the REF submission should recognise and support equalities and diversity in the research community. The Code sets out how this will be done at Sussex.