Website URL : http://www.ucu.org.uk/4207||
Research Excellence Framework
Information for branches and members on the new Research Excellence Framework.
Good practice in the codes of practice
December 2012: The REF Equality and Diversity Panel (EDAP) has produced a report on good practice in the codes of practice on REF selection submitted by HEIs to the funding councils' REF team. It reports that nearly half of the codes sent in for review (from 159 HEIs in total) fell short of the requirements of the official guidance. Branches/LAs are advised to follow up with their own HEIs to request sight of the EDAP opinion and consultation on the implementation of requested changes. See UCUHE176 for further details: UCUHE176 (.rtf) | UCUHE176 (.pdf)
Updated REF code of practice guidance
July 2012: This updated guidance on the REF codes of practice identifies best practice and key principles that branches/LAs should seek to include in codes of practice being developed by their HEIs prior to the 31 July deadline: UCUHE157 (.rtf) | UCUHE157 (.pdf)
UCU updates REF guidance
March 2012: Following the branch consultation meeting on 3 February (see below) UCU has updated its guidance for branches on the Research Excellence Framework. Specifically, branches/LAs should now seek to influence the development of institutional codes of practice on REF submission, and seek to ensure that official guidance for REF submissions is followed. They should also seek no-detriment agreements to protect staff excluded from REF submissions.
Branch consultation meeting
At the UCU's Higher Education Sector Conference in May 2011, the union reiterated its policy of opposition to the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF). We believe that the REF will have a detrimental impact on the UK higher education system, including the demoralisation of staff, discriminatory practices and possibly the closure of departments.
Conference policy instructs the HEC 'to consider the most effective way for our members to withdraw from participation in the REF.' In order to discuss this policy, we are staging a branch consultation meeting at UCU Head Office on 3 February 2011. All HE branches/LAs are encouraged to send one or two representatives to this meeting.
New REF guidelines
October 2011: The overwhelming majority of contributions to UCU's REF consultation response focused on the treatment of maternity and adoption leave. The final panel criteria is due to be published in January 2012: UCU response to the HEFCE REF consultation: 'Consultation on draft panel criteria and working methods', Oct 11 (.doc) [109kb]
September 2011: UCU has warned that proposed new guidelines for university research as part of the 2014 REF will penalise female academics. Under the draft proposals, female researchers who take maternity leave will still be expected to produce the same number of high-quality research publications as their colleagues. You can read the full consultation document here.
Read our press release here: New research guidelines will penalise female academics, union warns
Research excellence framework - is 'impact' back on the agenda?
March 2011: UCU said the government was showing 'disgraceful neglect' towards universities and the academic community after it announced plans for the future of university research funding.
Universities minister, David Willetts, delayed the announcement after a campaign led by UCU to scrap a proposal that would see 25% of future research to be assessed on 'economic impacts'. But UCU said he had broken his promise to listen to academics as the government announced that the impact element will still be a key part of how research quality is assessed. Under the new framework the three elements being assessed will be weighted as such - output 65%, impact 20% and environment 15%: Government has broken promise to academics on research funding
November 2010: In July 2010, David Willetts, the universities and science minister, announced a delay in the implementation of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) because of concerns about the rigour of the criteria for assessing 'impact' and its acceptance by academics. UCU's Stand Up for Research campaign was instrumental in questioning the credibility of the 'impact' agenda.
However, a recent study from the higher education funding councils argues that the 'expert review of case studies is an appropriate means for assessing impact' and that the 'the case study approach should be developed further for use in the REF'. The pilot study - published in November - argues that a 'common broad approach for all disciplines based on case studies should be possible, with generic criteria and the same weighting for impact'. At the same time, it recognises that the 'assessment in the first full REF will still be developmental' and that as a result the 'weighting of impact in the REF should be considered carefully'. It suggests one option would be for impact to have a lower weighting than 25% for the 2014 REF.
UCU's policy team would welcome views on the pilot study report (.pdf), particularly from colleagues in the 29 participating HEIs. Please can you send in any comments to Rob Copeland, policy officer firstname.lastname@example.org.
Victory for research - plans to force economic impact into research postponed
July 2010: On 9 July 2010 UCU welcomed the announcement from the minister for universities and science, David Willetts, that there would be a one-year delay in order to review proposed changes to the Research Excellence Framework (REF): UCU welcomes decision to postpone plans to force economic impact into research
HEFCE acknowledge UCU pressure
On 26 March 2010, HEFCE announced the result of their consultation, acknowledging UCU's leading role in opposing their impact proposals. HEFCE said: 'A minority of responses, notably UCU, some of the academic associations, individual departments, individual researchers and others, opposed or objected to assessing the impact of research in the REF, even with a lower weighting. The UCU submitted a petition to withdraw the impact proposals, signed by 17,500 people, although the petition presented the proposals as seeking to predict the impact of research before it is carried out, rather than assessing 'historical' impacts as we had proposed. Their key concerns were that the REF would harm long-term, curiosity-driven research or disadvantage arts and humanities research, or that the challenges involved in assessing impact would be insurmountable.'
HEFCE announce delay in REF until after the election
On 1 April 2010, it was reported in the Times Higher that HEFCE would be delaying the implementation of the REF until after the election. David Sweeney, director of research at HEFCE announced that universities could expect a minimum of another year's delay to the current timetable, pushing the REF assessment to 2014 and REF-based funding to 2015. Mr Sweeney was clear that the immense public debate over the 'impact' proposals lay at the heart of this decision: 'It has got to be delayed by a year because we are having a more detailed discussion about impact than we expected.'
Political parties shifted positions on impact
The Conservatives said they will 'delay the implementation of the Research Excellence Framework so that it can be reviewed - because of doubts about whether there is a robust and acceptable way of measuring the impact of all research'. Read more here.
The Liberal Democrats said that while they believe in the value of considering impact, 'such considerations should not be used to decide whether projects are funded or not, even as tie-breakers; we recognise that the economic impact of science is inherently unpredictable, and making funding decisions on uncertain premises could ultimately be damaging. We are therefore opposed to the use of non-evidence based impact predictions when deciding resource allocations, whether that be in grant awards or through the Research Excellence Framework.' Read more here.
Science and Technology Committee to examine 'impact' proposals
Following UCU lobbying, the Science and Technology Select Committee launched an inquiry into science funding and one aspect the committee will be particularly interested in is the proposals for 'impact'. The committee was interested in 'what evidence there is on the feasibility or effectiveness of estimating the economic impact of research, both from a historical perspective (for QR funding) and looking to the future (for research council grants)'. The report was published on 24 March: The impact of spending cuts on science and scientific research (.pdf)
The statement below opposing the REF proposals has now been submitted to HEFCE alongside UCU's response to the consultation. Thank you to all 17,570 people who signed.
The latest proposal by the higher education funding councils is for 25% of the new Research Excellence Framework (REF) to be assessed according to 'economic and social impact'. As academics, researchers and higher education professionals we believe that it is counterproductive to make funding for the best research conditional on its perceived economic and social benefits.
If implemented, these proposals risk undermining support for basic research across all disciplines and may well lead to an academic brain drain to countries such as the United States that continue to value fundamental research.
We, therefore, call on the UK funding councils to withdraw the current REF proposals and to work with academics and researchers on creating a funding regime which supports and fosters basic research in our universities and colleges rather than discourages it.