All academics 'with major research responsibility' in REF 2021

New rules implemented 'will give a more rounded view of the research carried out' and reflect better on individuals, says funding body head

November 21, 2017
Research excellence framework assessment
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Every academic with “significant responsibility for research” will be required to submit at least one output to the UK’s next research excellence framework, funding bodies have confirmed.

Publishing final decisions on how the 2021 exercise will work, the Higher Education Funding Council for England and funding bodies in devolved nations confirmed that they would meet Lord Stern’s recommendation that all research-active staff should be submitted and that contractual status could be used to identify these individuals in the majority of cases.

Each participating staff member will be required to submit a minimum of one and a maximum of five outputs, with an average of 2.5 outputs for each full-time equivalent researcher. 

This differs from the 2014 exercise, when each participating researcher was expected to submit four outputs, but universities had the freedom to choose whether to submit academics.

For “many submissions”, the funding bodies say, all academics will meet the basic criteria of having a significant responsibility for research and being on a contract of 0.2 full-time equivalent or greater.

However, responding to concerns that contractual status may not capture an academic’s activities in every case, Hefce say that universities will also be allowed to develop a process to identify staff who have significant responsibility for research. This could include an assessment of the proportion of each academic's time that is allocated to research.

Lord Stern’s review of the REF recommended that all researchers should be submitted in order to give a better picture of institutional performance and to end the “stigma” associated with non-submission.

Lord Stern also recommended that outputs should not be “portable” for the purposes of the REF, with credit going to the institution where the work was “demonstrably generated”, in a bid to stamp out the pre-REF “transfer market” where the credit went to an academic’s new employer.

Lord Stern’s proposal was not welcomed by universities so, as a result, the funding bodies have confirmed that credit will go both to the institution employing the academic on the census date and the university where the output was demonstrably generated.

David Sweeney, director of research and knowledge exchange at Hefce, and executive chair designate of Research England, said that the submission of all research-active staff “will give a more rounded view of the research carried out and focus more on the portfolio of work from the institution”.

“This seeks to address the widely-held view that non-selection in the old scheme had deleterious career effects,” Mr Sweeney told Times Higher Education.

“However, while we fully accept this, and the Stern point that the exercise is about research in institutions, we have tried to acknowledge the point from many individual respondents that the visibility of their personal portfolio of work is influential in determining career futures.”

The funding bodies’ document confirms that the census date for REF 2021 will be July 31, 2020. The councils also say that staff will be allowed to be submitted “without the required minimum of one output where certain exceptional individual circumstances have affected their ability to meet the requirement”.

It says that submissions will include one impact case study, plus one further case study per up to 15 full-time equivalent staff submitted (as opposed to one per 10 in 2014), for the first 105 full-time equivalents submitted. After this, the requirement will decrease to one further case study for every 50 full-time equivalents submitted.

Maddalaine Ansell, chief executive of the University Alliance mission group, said she was pleased that funders had “taken [a] conciliatory approach to addressing the sector's concerns”.

“Who should be submitted to the REF and which institutions get the credit for their publications were by far the thorniest questions of the consultation and Hefce and the other funding councils have come up with fair solutions to both. 

“Compared to what was originally on the table, letting institutions identify individuals with significant responsibility for research is a much better method of determining all staff submission which reflects the approach proposed by University Alliance. 

“Likewise, allowing more than one institution to count the publications of a researcher who has moved jobs gives credit where it’s due and will spell an end to the cut-throat transfer market seen in previous cycles.”

The latest publication follows the funding councils’ announcement that impact would account for 25 per cent of a university’s score in the next REF, up from 20 per cent in the previous exercise.

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