1. The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is the system for assessing research in UK HEIs. It was first conducted in 2014, and replaced the previous Research Assessment Exercise (RAE).

2. The primary purpose of REF 2021 is to produce assessment outcomes based on research quality profiles for each Unit of Assessment (UoA) submission made by institutions. These outcomes deliver the wider threefold purpose of the exercise, as follows:
    a) The four HE funding bodies (including Research England) intend to use the assessment outcomes to inform the selective allocation of their grant for research to the institutions which they fund, with effect from 2022–23.
    b) The assessment provides accountability for public investment in research and produces evidence of the impact and benefits arising from this investment.
    c)  The assessment outcomes provide benchmarking information and establish reputational yardsticks for each discipline, for use within the HE sector and for public information. 

3. Research England has stated in their REF2021 Guidance on Submissions document that each institution making a submission to the REF is required to develop, document and apply a code of practice governing their processes for determining research independence and for selecting outputs. Certain institutions are also required to include processes for determining significant responsibility for research; this does not apply to the College as it has opted to submit all of its eligible staff to the REF.

Purpose of the Code of Practice

4. Decisions about which research outputs to select for submission into the REF are at the discretion of the College (and all HEIs making submissions to REF). These decisions will be taken for the benefit of the College, when viewed as a whole. Additionally the College has discretion over the interpretation of Research England’s guidance on which staff are research independent (and are therefore eligible to the REF). The purpose of this document, therefore, is to ensure that staff and those making decisions are aware of the context in which REF decisions are made. Hence our Code of Practice is intended to:

    a) Provide transparency on all aspects and stages of the processes involved in determining research independence of staff and selecting outputs for submission into REF2021;
    b) Provide accountability by defining the bodies and individuals that are accountable for, or involved in, the determination of research independence of staff, and the selection of research outputs for the REF;
    c) Be inclusive, by ensuring that research by all eligible staff are considered for submission;
    d) Ensure that all decisions are, consistent, justifiable and are not discriminatory;
    e) Ensures that these REF decisions comply with current equalities legislation;
    f)  Takes place at various levels and stages – a multi-layered approach;
    g)  Reflects the College’s mission for high-quality research and research excellence.

5. Where necessary and appropriate, the document will evolve in light of any changes to equalities legislation, practice and the Funding Councils’ REF Guidance.

Context for the Code

The College Mission

6. The College Mission states that:

“Our mission is to achieve enduring excellence in research and education in science, engineering, medicine and business for the benefit of society.

The College Strategy

7. Underpinning our mission, the College Strategy states that:
  • We will continue to specialise in science, engineering, medicine and business.
  • We will maintain world-class core academic disciplines
  • We will encourage multidisciplinary research
  • We will embed our educational experience in a vibrant, research-led, entrepreneurial environment.
  • We will build a supportive, inclusive and highly motivated staff community across all disciplines, functions and activities.
  • We will strengthen collaboration with business, academia, and non-profit, healthcare and government institutions across the globe

The College Equalities Framework

8. The College is fully committed to equality and this is embedded throughout the organisational structure. The Council, which is the College’s governing body, requires the College to be proactive, exemplary where possible, and monitors the College’s progress regularly against equality objectives.

9. On 11 Oct 2018 Imperial College published its new strategy for a re-invigorated approach to equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI). It explains why the College aims to position EDI at the centre of everything it does and outlines priorities and the practical steps that will be taken to achieve these aims. Stated aims of relevance to the REF are:

  • To integrate equality, diversity and inclusion into all management processes
  • To take positive action to improve the opportunities and experiences of underrepresented groups, especially women, and Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic, LGBTQ+ and disabled staff and students
  • To reduce the incidence of bullying and harassment
  • To gather and publish data to monitor progress
  • To collaborate internally and externally to develop good practice
  • To be open to dialogue and challenge on our work on equality, diversity and inclusion
10. Since its submission to REF 2014, the College has reaffirmed its commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion, as demonstrated by the appointment of Imperial’s first Assistant Provost (EDI); the establishment of an executive EDI Strategy Group, headed by the Provost; and the establishment of an EDI Forum with a broad and representative membership. These two new bodies work closely together to promote the integration of the values of equality, diversity and inclusion within the whole organization that are envisaged in the College’s EDI strategy.

11. The creation of the post of Assistant Provost (EDI), along with the EDI Strategy Group and the EDI Forum provide a new prominence and focus for EDI matters within the College leadership, helping to create an organisational culture in which consideration of equality, diversity and inclusion is central to all decision-making processes.

12. The College’s Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Centre (EDIC) are a team of experts who listen and talk to staff across the College and work towards mainstreaming EDI. The EDIC is led by a HR Professional and reports directly into HR. The EDIC Centre works with individuals, teams, and departments to provide help and advice. The EDIC deliver training, programmes and initiatives and work with HR colleagues on policies and processes. The main responsibilities of the EDIC include:

    a) Working in collaboration to promote EDI and to eliminate all forms of discrimination
    b) Influencing and advising on best practice, specifically ensuring compliance with EDI legislation and the College’s own policies and procedures
    c) Providing a variety of training courses for members of the College, as well as development programmes
    d) Working with the College’s diversity staff networks facilitating two-way communication, and ensuring year-on-year progress
    e) Building collaborative working relationships with appropriate community groups, professionals and sector-wide peers

13. The College’s REF Code of Practice has been informed by, and is aligned to, College equality policies.

Communicating the REF Code of Practice

14. A rolling programme of briefing sessions on the Code of Practice will be organised and attendance will be compulsory for staff with membership of the REF decision-making bodies outlined in Annexes 1-3. These briefings will focus on making decision-makers fully aware of the Code of Practice and its requirements and on preparing them to answer questions from staff members concerning it, ensuring a consistent approach across the College.

15. We have developed a communications plan that incorporates regular updates to staff members about the REF and the Code at regular intervals. For example, when the Code of Practice is approved by Research England, it will be launched formally to all staff using a variety of the College’s channels, including, for example, the College website, “Staff Briefing” email bulletin and social media channels such as Yammer. We will also cascade communications through faculties’ and/or academic departments’ through the College’s network of communicators. To ensure that staff who are on long term leave or absent from work are aware of the Code of Practice, hard copy letters informing staff of the Code and the REF processes will be sent to the home addresses of these staff.

16. Staff members who have questions or want to discuss concerns are able to raise them with a variety of contacts, including departmental contacts, the College-wide HR staff hub, faculty office, and  the Deputy Director, Organisational Development and Inclusion.

17. The Code of Practice will be made available on dedicated REF webpages. The webpages will also be drawn to the attention of staff on leave, with a link to these pages included in the letters being sent to staff absent from work. This site will also explain the processes and timelines for REF and will contain a set of FAQs for staff.

The decision-making framework

18. The decision-making framework for the College’s REF submission is shaped by the College’s academic organisational structure, comprising 4 Faculties (Engineering, Medicine, Natural Sciences and the Business School), and their constituent departments.


College-level bodies

19. The Vice-Provost (Research and Enterprise) (VPR) has ultimate responsibility for the delivery of an accurate and timely REF submission, which aims to achieve the best outcome for the College. The VPR is advised by a REF Strategy group, with representatives from each of the 4 Faculties. The Director of Strategic Planning has overall responsibility for the preparation of the College’s submission to the REF, acting as the main source of specialist advice for the College on REF policies and procedures. The full membership and terms of reference of the REF Strategy Group are available in Annex 3.
20. Detailed decisions on the submissions to individual UoAs will be made by the Faculties, and their constituent departments. In some, but not every, instance the College’s organisational structure matches that of the REF Unit of Assessment. Each Department and Faculty is responsible for the REF Units of Assessment (UoAs) which most closely match their academic and research profile.

21. The REF Equality committee has responsibility for equality related issues within all UoAs, including the process of assessing the impact on the REF of staff circumstances affecting research productivity and for undertaking Equality Impact Assessments at key points throughout the process. The group is chaired by the Assistant-Provost (EDI) and, in order to ensure objectivity, membership is distinct from the REF Strategy Group and any decision making bodies within individual Faculties, and their constituent departments. This committee will work closely with both the REF Strategy Group and Faculty decision making bodies to provide advice on Equality and Diversity related issues affecting the REF This committee will review, on an ongoing basis, the equality and diversity of the membership of the key REF decision making bodies at a College and Faculty\Departmental Level. The full membership and terms of reference are available in Annex 2.

Faculty/Departmental-level bodies

22. Each of the four Faculties has an overall leading committee overseeing the REF submission to UoAs within their Faculty, as outlined in Table 1 below. These committees will manage the initial decisions about: whether research-only staff are, based on an agreed set of College-wide criteria, independent for the purposes of the REF and therefore eligible for the REF; to which UoA within the REF structure staff are submitted, and which outputs are selected for submission to the REF. Membership of these committees is comprised of senior Faculty staff and senior Departmental staff , encompassing the  Units  of  Assessment  within the remit of the Faculty. Departmental staff typically, but not necessarily, incudes the Head of Department.
23. Membership of the leading Faculty committees are chosen on the basis of: 

    a) Having sufficient subject knowledge and subject expertise to make a judgement about the quality of research outputs during the REF assessment period (i.e. since 1 January 2014); 
    b) Having sufficient knowledge about indicators of research independence, in order to consider the research independence of staff;
    c)  An awareness of all relevant equal opportunities legislation and good management practice so that their decisions can be informed by this. 

24. The Faculty Committees will work closely within existing structures within Faculties responsible for management and research decision (for example Faculty Management committees). The full details of the REF decision-making structure is detailed in Annex 1.

UoA responsibility by Faculty Committee

  • Imperial College Business School REF Committee & Imperial College Business School Management Board
    Unit of Assessment (UoA): 17 - Business and Management Studies
  • Faculty of Engineering REF Advisor Group & Faculty of Engineering REF Planning Group
    Unit of Assessment (UoA): 11 - Computer Science and Informatics,  12 - Engineering
  • Faculty of Medicine REF Committee
    Unit of Assessment (UoA): 
    1  - Clinical Medicine, 2  - Public Health, Health Services Primary Care, 4 - Psychology, Psychiatry and
  • Faculty of Natural Sciences REF Committee
    Unit of Assessment (UoA): 5 - Biological Sciences, 8 - Chemistry, 9 - Physics, 10 - Mathematical Sciences, 14 - Geography and Environmental Studies 

Ensuring full awareness of Equality and Diversity

25. All individuals involved with making decisions must be aware of their personal responsibility for fairness and equality of opportunity. Compulsory attendance at briefing and training sessions on Equality and Diversity and Unconscious bias is required by members of the REF Strategy Group, and the leading Faculty REF committees to ensure that all are aware of existing equalities legislation, the impact of unconscious bias, and, in particular, the issues specific to REF selection.

26. In addition, the REF Equality Committee will be charged with a specific equality remit. Its role will be to provide a level of extra scrutiny and to challenge and question decisions made to ensure that they have been made with due regard to equality and fairness. This will be achieved through reports to the REF Strategy Group at key stages throughout the process e.g. the identification of research independent staff and the selection and attribution of outputs to staff.

27. All decision-makers involved in the College’s REF submission will be working within this framework and Code to ensure that all decisions are informed by current equalities legislation and good management practice informed by the determination embodied in the new EDI strategy to place EDI at the core of all deliberations.