Looking at responding to the REF consultation? Too late. The deadline for responding to the second Research Excellence Framework consultation closed two weeks ago.

Following the Stern Review last summer, the long-awaited technical consultation on the latest REF was published in December 2016. It built upon the Stern recommendations and offered some suggestions on how best to implement them.

Since then, the last few months have been a whirlwind of discussion around various aspects in the consultation. “What does “all research staff in” actually mean? Should outputs be portable? What should the maximum and minimum number of outputs be? Indeed, Kim Hackett, the HEFCE REF Manager, offered some reflections last week on how the sector has been responding to the proposals.

For my part, I was pleased to see such emphasis in the consultation on impact, although, as I have blogged before, the proposals around impact could go further if we truly want to demonstrate how excellent research is fundamental to solving great societal challenges. That’s the main reason why we’ve argued for 30% of the exercise to be based upon impact rather than the proposed 20%.

What else do we argue?

Our overall consultation is rather lengthy (you can find our full response here). However, here are some of our highlights:

  • On Units of Assessment…
    Similar to others within the sector, we welcome as little change as possible to the UoAs so as to be able to compare performance with the previous exercise.
  • On using HESA cost codes to identify all research active staff…
    Similar to others, including UUK, we argue that using HESA cost codes to identify research active staff is flawed as they would not give an accurate picture of the current situation.
  • On the number of outputs…
    This has certainly caused some debate within the sector. There is broad support for an average of two outputs per full-time staff member; however opinions vary over there should be a minimum of one or, as Stern recommended, zero outputs.We argue for the latter. Small and specialist institutions tend to have a higher proportion of staff who are only just embarking on an academic career either at the same time as, or after, working in another sector or industry. They need longer to acclimatise to what can be a very different way of working and might experience undue pressure to produce direct outputs even when then they are contributing to the research environment.
  • On portability of outputs…
    We welcome the principle behind the portability of outputs; however we see the proposals as they stand as particularly problematic. It will be very tricky to implement mid-cycle and could impact unfairly on Early Stage Researchers.
  • On institutional level environment and impact…
    Whilst we are strongly in favour of increases the emphasis on impact, the introduction of institutional research impact could very easily be confused with institutional impact – two distinct and separate things – and thus lead to the wrong things being measured in a research excellence framework.

The above offers just a few highlights of what our consultation response covers. If you want to read more, do have a look at our full response.

The consultation offered a lot for us to get our teeth into and there are particular opportunities and potential challenges for small, specialist, distinct and diverse higher education institutions. We are looking forward to how HEFCE and the other Funding Councils will respond in the summer.

Matthew Guest – Senior Policy Advisor (Research and Innovation)
Spring 2017