The Research Excellence Framework (REF) was introduced to assess the quality of research in UK higher education institutions and inform the allocation of government funding for research.
Preparations for next exercise comes at a time of radical reform in the UK higher education sector with, not only the independent review of REF, but a review of research councils, the higher education white paper and next steps for Teaching Excellence Framework. It also includes the introduction of the apprenticeship levy, and departmental reorganisation of Whitehall responsibilities for universities and research.
Further complications and uncertainties arise now that article 50 has been triggered and the UK government begins negotiations to leave the European Union. There could be significant implications for international collaboration, Horizon 2020 funding, and the mobility of staff and students. So how can universities and research institutions navigate the current reforms and choppy waters ahead and strengthen and protect the UK’s leadership in world-class research?
Key recommendations of the 2016 Stern Review included a new institutional level assessment to reward collaboration on interdisciplinary activities; widening and deepening the notion of research “impact” to include influence on public engagement, culture and on teaching; and, the inclusion of all research active staff to support a more flexible research framework.
The funding bodies have taken on board these recommendations and outlined their policy ambition for REF 2021 to secure the continuation of a dynamic and responsive research base within UK higher education. The consultation document makes clear that this will continue to be achieved through the threefold purpose of a future REF:
- To provide accountability for public investment in research and produce evidence of the benefits of this investment.
- To provide benchmarking information and establish reputational yardsticks, for use within the HE sector and for public information.
- To inform the selective allocation of funding for research.
Further clarity on how research active staff will be measured and defined, the range and number of outputs per person required and which indicators in the new environment section are due to follow over the coming months.
Following the 2014 REF the government commissioned a UK-wide review of university research funding with the aim to cut red tape for a simpler, lighter-touch, system for the REF so that universities can focus more on delivering the world-leading research. In late 2015 Sir Paul Nurse’s independent report of the UK Research Councils, Ensuring a successful UK research endeavour, recommended a number of changes to research governance and structure to simplify transactional operations, better manage cross-cutting funding for interdisciplinary research and formation of overall research strategies and priorities for the UK.
Following the 2016 Stern Review the UK funding councils consultation was completed in spring 2017 with any amendments to the recommendations for REF 2021 set to be published and in place by the summer. This timely event will help support universities and research institutions in delivering world-class research and ensure they adhere to the developing assessment criteria.
Join us at Research Impact: Strengthening the Excellence Framework to gain a greater understanding of the future REF assessment and submissions processes. Learn how to effectively measure and evidence impact with interactive, practical sessions on improving REF implications and interdisciplinary research.