The national assessment of UK universities’ research quality resumed on Friday, after a four month pause as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The research excellence framework (REF) has also issued a revised submission deadline and new guidance explaining measures it is taking to account for the effects of Covid-19 on university research programmes.

The REF exercise is carried out on a seven year cycle by the UK’s four higher education funding bodies, but it was put on hold in March as the nationwide lockdown began to hit universities.

Universities now have until 31 March 2021 to prepare their submissions, pushed back from the original deadline of 27 November 2020. The funding bodies plan to review  REF’s timetable in November to decide whether any further adjustments are needed.

REF has also taken steps to allow universities to include delayed research outputs in their submissions, and to describe the impact of Covid-19 on their research environments.

‘We were seeking to balance a number of things in developing revisions to the exercise. In particular, ensuring a fair approach, that could make some allowance for the effects of Covid-19 on submissions, while minimising additional burden on the submission process,’ said REF’s director Kim Hackett in a statement. ‘We received over 160 responses to our survey seeking views on the proposed mitigations, with the majority confirming these as appropriate. Alongside valuable discussion with the expert panels, the detailed comments provided in the survey responses have informed the final provisions set out in the guidance.’