REF 2021: Guidance Released

This afternoon HEFCE released the decisions on staff and outputs for REF 2021. Our very own Ruth Hattam was digesting the details over lunch and has come up with a useful bitesize summary. If that’s not enough REF for you you can always read the full thing (it’s only 19 pages): http://www.ref.ac.uk/media/ref,2021/downloads/REF%202017_04%20Decisions.pdf

  • All staff with significant responsibility for research are returned to REF provided they are independent researchers.  As expected, institutions not going with 100% submission will be able to determine the criteria for identifying staff with significant responsibility.  My reading of the guidance is that it will be possible to consider different criteria for different UoAs, although the rationale for all decisions will need to be captured in the Code of Practice (guidance summer 2018, provisional submission spring 2019).  Further guidance on significant responsibility criteria (determined in conjunction with main panels) will form part of the Guidance on submissions/Panel criteria – the final versions of which will not be available until January 2019.
  • Independent researcher criteria will build on REF 2014 definition and will be worked on with the main panels.
  • ORCID strongly encouraged by not mandated.
  • Average number of outputs is 2.5 per FTE submitted.
  • Minimum of one, maximum of 5 outputs per member of staff (this is a soft 5 with no limit on co-authored papers).  Staff can be returned with zero outputs through an individual circumstances process.  The unit of assessment can also make  case for ‘unit circumstances’ to reduce the overall number of outputs required.
  • Impact case studies will be 2 for up to 15 FTE, then one for each additional 15 FTE (up to 105 FTE when one additional per 50 FTE)
  • Staff census date is 31 July 2020.  Hefce intend to work with HESA ‘to enable close alignment between the information collected and the staff record and the submission requirements of REF.
  • Output portability is the simplified model (i.e. outputs can be returned at current and previous institution – with some caveats).  (85% of the 157 respondents supported this model).
  • The original Open Access requirement (i.e. deposit within 3 months of date of acceptance) will be implemented from April 2018, although there will be the opportunity to record exceptions when deposit is 3 months after publication.

 

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HEFCE’s David Sweeney Blogs: Who Is Research Active?

HEFCE’s Director of Research, Education and Knowledge Exchange, and one of the key architects of the next REF, David Sweeney has published an interesting blog about who counts as “research active” ahead of the closure of the REF2021 consultation tomorrow. He suggests there has been a lot of “push back” from the HE sector on the consultation proposal that “research active” should be determined by contractual status, and that there should be another evidence-based and mutually agreed approach. It’s not clear what this would be, but interesting to see that there’s already movement on this even before consultation responses are in.

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DON’T MISS OUT – ECR event on the HEFCE consultation on the next REF, Tues 14 Feb, 1pm

As many of you may know, the Higher Education Funding Council for England has launched the consultation for the next Research Excellence Framework. This includes proposals intended to streamline the REF process and make it less burdensome for UK universities whilst maintaining and improving incentives for research excellence.  It includes recommendations relating to: the submission of staff and outputs, the approach to the assessment of impact, and the introduction of an institutional level assessment.

Are you keen to find out about the next Research Excellence Framework and what it might mean for you as an ECR? The next REF is going to take place in 2021 and the University, like other HEIs, is currently preparing a response to the national consultation on what the REF should look like. There are some changes we know will take place compared to REF 2014 but other issues are still under consultation. The University is preparing a response and would like to give the ECR community an opportunity to feed into this. We are holding an event on Tuesday 14th February from 1.00-2.30 in room 209, Sutherland Building, City Campus. Feel free to bring your lunch along too.

Sign up here to attend.

Full details of the consultation can be found on the HEFCE website here.

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ECR event on the HEFCE consultation on the next REF, Tues 14 Feb

As you have no doubt heard, the Higher Education Funding Council for England has launched a consultation on the next Research Excellence Framework. This includes proposals intended to streamline the REF process and make it less burdensome for UK universities whilst maintaining and improving incentives for research excellence.  It includes recommendations relating to: the submission of staff and outputs, the approach to the assessment of impact, and the introduction of an institutional level assessment.

Northumbria University is preparing a response and would like to give the ECR community an opportunity to feed into this. We are holding an event on Tuesday 14th February from 1.00-2.30 in room 209, Sutherland Building, City Campus. If you are able to attend, please sign up on this doodle poll to reserve your place: http://doodle.com/poll/fdkxmmr7mvaw8mee

Responses to the consultation must be submitted by midday on Friday 17 March 2017. Full details of the consultation can be found on the HEFCE website here.

 

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Government response to Dowling Review of business-university collaborations – brief summary

collaboration-1106196_960_720The Government published its response to the Dowling Review on 20th December welcoming and strongly supporting the review which it says is reflected in the £100m over four years it announced in the last budget to support university-business collaboration – ‘The Dowling Review will continue to guide our ongoing work to reform and simplify public support for research and development and maximise the potential benefits of collaboration between business and our academic research base.’

This is a summary of the main points:

  • UK Research and Investment (UKRI) will be the Government’s instrument to connect businesses with research by allocating funding for research and innovation, act as a champion for the UK’s world class system and drive future discovery and growth. It will incorporate the functions of the seven Research Councils, Innovate UK, and HEFCE’s research funding and knowledge exchange responsibilities (assuming it is approved by Parliament).
  • Public support for the innovation system is too complex. Actions taken by the Government include a simplified offer for Innovate UK funding, thinking about how to design a new Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund delivered by Innovate UK and research councils, and research councils are looking at changing the system of research and innovation funding. Clearly there is a lot of work to be done on this one.
  • People are central to successful collaborations. The emphasis on research impact and the research environment alongside outputs is seen as a way to encourage and reward collaboration with business and commercialisation of research in the public interest. Various existing initiatives are listed that support academics to develop collaborative skills or promote the benefits of collaboration. However it doesn’t say much else about how to meet Dowling’s recommendations on ‘…creating an incentive framework for universities and businesses which promotes the transfer of ideas and people between business and academia, and recommended supporting students to develop business awareness at an early stage of their research careers, continuing to fund schemes which support mobility between academia and business and ensuring that researchers who are successful in collaborations are valued in terms of career progression and assessment of research output – including by increasing the emphasis on collaboration in the Research Excellence Framework (REF).’ It says it’s up to universities how they direct their priorities to suit local strengths and needs.
  • Effective brokerage is crucial, particularly for SMEs, and continued support is needed for activities that help seed collaborations. The Gateway to Research web portal is seen as a step towards meeting the need for digital tools to identify potential research partners and the National Centre for Universities and Business is developing an ‘Intelligent Brokerage Tool’. The government has reaffirmed its long term commitment to knowledge exchange including funding for the Higher Education Innovation Fund, and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is working with the Higher Education Funding Council for England to develop detailed proposals for allocating this funding to support universities in England. The Dowling Review highlighted Impact Acceleration Accounts (IAAs) and recommended their use more widely. This is likely to be welcomed by those universities who currently do not have an IAA.
  • Pump prime funding would stimulate the development of high quality research collaborations with critical mass and sustainability and more should be done to help existing efforts evolve from short-term, project-based collaborations to longer term partnerships focussed on use-inspired research. The document simply lists existing strategies that are aimed at addressing this.
  • Technology transfer offices need to prioritise knowledge exchange over short term income generation, and further work is required to improve approaches to contracts and IP agreements. The government has a clear expectation that exploitation of research means prioritising the long term benefits to the nation. This priority is reflected in the support and incentives provided by public research funding and the REF is the principal tool for incentivising behaviour around university research. It also points to the Lambert toolkit supporting IP processes but acknowledges that there is a need to simplify complex and time-consuming processes to agree collaborations. The McMillan review of technology transfer practice and the development of the knowledge exchange framework are cited as progress in this area.
  • Government strategy on innovation needs to be better coordinated and have greater visibility. They are aiming to achieve this through the Industrial Strategy and establishing UKRI. They also see a role for the Science and Innovation Audits bringing together businesses, universities and local enterprise partnerships. The Accelerated Access Review of the NHS also supports innovations in medicine

You can read the Government’s response to the Dowling Review in full here.

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Stern Review of REF Published: Some Initial Thoughts

Measuring Tape by Evan Amos - Public Domain
Measuring Tape by Evan Amos – Public Domain

The Stern Review of the Research Excellence Framework has been published today.

Broadly speaking the review recommends keeping the REF more or less the same as before – i.e. still a periodic exercise based predominantly on peer review, rather than metrics, and with recommendations for weightings of outputs, environment and impact more or less the same. This is not a proposal to radically overhaul the system.

However, the review does contain some fairly significant tweaks which will have implications for both academics and research managers, if they are adopted. The review makes the following recommendations (in bold below – followed by my own comment and reflections):

  1. All research active staff should be returned in the REF: This was a contentious issue going by the responses to the consultation on the REF, with some concerned that it could lead to a greater distinction between staff on teaching only contracts and those whose contracts include research responsibilities. On the positive side, it should lead to less burdensome selection processes for HEIs and reduce the negative stigma of not being “REF-able”.
  2. Outputs should be submitted at Unit of Assessment level with a set average number per FTE but with flexibility for some faculty members to submit more and others less than the average: The suggestion in the review is that the minimum should be 0 and the maximum 6 per FTE submitted, but further work will be required to model this so that it doesn’t lead to a large increase in work for panels.
  3. Outputs should not be portable: This has caused the largest outcry on Twitter following the publication of the review, particularly among early career researchers, many of whom argue that it will make it much more difficult to get new jobs as their previous publications will not count towards the next REF. On the other hand, the review makes the case that this will discourage the so-called “transfer market” of REF staff before the deadline.
  4. Panels should continue to assess on the basis of peer review. However, metrics should be provided to support panel members in their assessment, and panels should be transparent about their use: The report recognises that bibliometric data is not appropriate for use in all units of assessment (following the Metric Tide review), but that it can be used “judiciously” to help panels in their peer review assessment.
  5. Institutions should be given more flexibility to showcase their interdisciplinary and collaborative impacts by submitting ‘institutional’ level impact case studies, part of a new institutional level assessment: This is a genuinely new part of the assessment and perhaps reflects the slightly amorphous nature of research impact assessment, which in many cases is difficult to tie down to a particular body of work which fits neatly within the boundaries of a single UoA.
  6. Impact should be based on research of demonstrable quality. However, case studies could be linked to a research activity and a body of work as well as to a broad range of research outputs: Again this appears to be about increasing the flexibility of what counts as impact and reducing the instrumental approach of linking research outputs directly to impacts. How this will play out in reality will, I imagine, depend heavily on precisely how this is interpreted in the guidance, assuming the recommendation is adopted.
  7. Guidance on the REF should make it clear that impact case studies should not be narrowly interpreted, need not solely focus on socioeconomic impacts but should also include impact on government policy, on public engagement and understanding, on cultural life, on academic impacts outside the field, and impacts on teaching: The fact that the review contains three recommendations wholly focusing on impact shows that this element of the assessment is still critical. Several people have pointed out on ARMA mailing lists that the guidance for REF2014 anyway allowed these kinds of impacts (except perhaps for academic impacts), so this might partly be about emphasising to institutions and panels that these are eligible impacts and should be taken seriously.
  8. A new, institutional level Environment assessment should include an account of the institution’s future research environment strategy, a statement of how it supports high quality research and research-related activities, including its support for interdisciplinary and cross-institutional initiatives and impact. It should form part of the institutional assessment and should be assessed by a specialist, cross-disciplinary panel: As widely predicted, the REF3a “impact statement” is part of a wider statement about research environment, though at the institutional level rather than the UoA level.
  9. That individual Unit of Assessment environment statements are condensed, made complementary to the institutional level environment statement and include those key metrics on research intensity specific to the Unit of Assessment: Recommendations 8 and 9 are listed together in the review and they do appear to complement each other. The focus at UoA-level (9) appears to be on shorter, punchier metrics-based evidence, while at institutional level (8) it is on more narrative-based plans and strategies.
  10. Where possible, REF data and metrics should be open, standardised and combinable with other research funders’ data collection processes in order to streamline data collection requirements and reduce the cost of compiling and submitting information: The focus here is on reducing the burden of the REF, and the review here acknowledges current events in the form of the TEF and the uncertainty about the future relationship between the UK and the EU. With the emphasis on standardisation and streamlined data collection, there is surely a role here for organisations like Jisc and CASRAI.
  11. That Government, and UKRI, could make more strategic and imaginative use of REF, to better understand the health of the UK research base, our research resources and areas of high potential for future development, and to build the case for strong investment in research in the UK: Ant Bagshaw suggests in his WonkHE post that this appears to be a “bit of a cheeky request” for cash.
  12. Government should ensure that there is no increased administrative burden to Higher Education Institutions from interactions between the TEF and REF, and that they together strengthen the vital relationship between teaching and research in HEIs: This again returns to the theme of the review which is to reshape the REF to reduce the burden on HEIs.

The timetable suggested by the review on p32 is also instructive and suggests a lot of work lies in store for the Government and Funding Councils: a consultation on concrete proposals for the next REF by the end of 2016, with decisions made in the summer of 2017. This will also need to be “checked for consistency” with the TEF, as the two exercises will evolve in parallel. The review suggests that this timetable could see a deadline for submissions by the end of 2020, with the assessment itself taking place in 2021.

 

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Nurse Review of the UK Research Councils released

The HE sector has been waiting with bated breath for the outcome of the Nurse Review of the UK Research Councils. This was released today, and thankfully has few surprises (unlike the recent HE Green Paper.). The review was commissioned by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and written by Sir Paul Nurse, President of the Royal Society taking in wide consultation from the Research Councils themselves and the HE sector. The link to it can be found below:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/nurse-review-of-research-councils-recommendations

It broadly comes out in support of maintaining the current RCUK structure of maintaining 7 UK Research Councils, and establishment of an overarching body called ‘Research UK’ to give them a unified voice. Interestingly, it also recommends that future REF exercises are undertaken by this body and supports maintaining the dual support system of quality-related funding allocations alongside competitive research council funding. It doesn’t go as far as to state QR allocation should be taken from HEFCE but reading between the lines they will certainly have reduced influence if the recommendations are followed. It also talks about making faster funding decisions, keeping expert peer review and more transparency. All the recommendations seem to broadly support the conclusions of the triennial review of RCUK that was undertaken not that long ago, but with some potentially big changes behind the scenes at RCUK.

However with the McKinsey review of BIS looming we should maybe anticipate the opposite will be stated that RCUK should be cut, given smaller budgets and be put ‘all under one roof’ to save operating costs. That review will be no doubt be backed up with snazzy statistics that ‘more can be delivered with less’ that Whitehall will be very interested in.

Seems all is still to play for where future funding for UK Research is concerned ahead of the Comprehensive Spending Review, with no doubt a lot more debate to be had!

Longleat Maze by Antony Theobald CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

 

 

 

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