New measures will encourage universities to submit researchers with diverse careers to the REF

The Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) has released it guidelines detailing how universities will be assessed in the upcoming Research Excellence Framework (REF), which will help to determine how much funding institutes receive. In the Assessment Framework and Guidance on Submission for the 2014 REF, the funding councils have outlined the final criteria and specific data and narratives required for submissions. The new guidance also aims to encourage universities to place more value on researchers who have taken a career break or returned to academia from industry. 


REF aims to help academics that took a career break to return to the fold

REF will replace the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) in 2014. It will make its judgements using three weighted criteria: the quality of research outputs (65%), the much discussed research impact (20%) and the research environment (15%). The number of ’units of assessment’ panels has been cut from 67 to 36 and many disciplines have been brought together into single panels, such as geography and archaeology. However, chemistry still has its own expert review panel. 

Each university’s REF assessment will help divide up quality related funding, which underpins much of the research infrastructure in the UK. Hefce will fund four-star (world-leading) research but is unlikely to fund two-star (internationally recognised) research and are yet to confirm whether or not they will fund three-star (internationally excellent) research. 

Hefce, which manages REF on behalf of the UK funding councils, has put concessions in place to encourage universities to submit the work of all of their excellent researchers, whether they have a long publication record or not. ’Individuals whose circumstances have significantly constrained their ability to work productively throughout the assessment period may be returned with fewer outputs, without any penalty in the assessment,’ the guidance document states. More obligations will be put on universities to comply with the Equality Act 2010 to avoid low submission rates from eligible female, black and disabled academics, which was the case with RAE 2008. Hefce is also hoping that this will persuade universities to include researchers whose career paths have deviated from the norm. 

Imran Khan, director of the Campaign for Science & Engineering says researchers who take a break from academia often find it difficult to get back in and REF needs to address this. ’This particularly affects parents, who take career breaks for family reasons, but it’s a big issue for industry too - it’s not straightforward to go back into a university after spending time in the private sector. At a time when we are trying to improve collaboration between higher education and industry, that can’t be right.’ 

The consultation on specific panel criteria will take place over the summer. This will be the last chance for the research community to comment on REF. 

Leila Sattary