The REF: The Research Excellence Framework 2014

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What is the REF?

According to the HEFCE (Higher Education Funding Council for England) website, the REF is:

‘The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is the new system for assessing the quality of research in UK higher education institutions (HEIs). It will replace the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) and will be completed in 2014....

The REF will:

  • inform the selective allocation of research funding to HEIs
  • provide benchmarking information and establish reputational yardsticks
  • provide accountability for public investment in research and demonstrate its benefits.’

HEFCE also says that universities will be assessed on three main criteria: quality of research output, impact of research and vitality of research environment. Controversially, citation information, or bibliometrics, will be used in some cases to judge the research outputs. Institutions will have to submit their statements in 2013 for assessment in 2014.

What does this mean for me as an academic?

If you are a permanent member of academic staff at a UK institution, you will probably already be preparing for the REF. As with the RAE, if you are an established member of a department, you need to have four items of published ‘output’ (i.e. books, articles etc) to submit to the assessment in 2014. So, these items have to be published by early 2013. Your department might put increased pressure to produce these outputs and in some cases you will be expected to complete this without receiving extra research leave or teaching remission.

If you are currently at the start of your career and looking for a permanent job, you do not have to produce all 4 pieces. As with the RAE, if you have any strong publications (i.e. monographs or articles in world class journals) then you are more likely to be hired during this period because you will be able to offer something to your new department’s submission.

Because 20% of the REF assessment is based on ‘impact’, you might also be encouraged by your head of department to consider the ‘impact’ of your research. This means the effect that it has on the wider world, outside academia. An example of impact is the way that some university research has a direct effect on social policy. Universities and funding bodies are still discussing what ‘impact’ actually means in practical terms and how they are going to display it in the REF submission.

Tips to improve your REF performance

  1. Impact: think about this when you are formulating a project or a piece of work. It will become increasingly important for the REF and also for acquiring funding.
  2. Plan your research output for the next 18 months with the REF in mind. Think about how to achieve publications easily with the minimum of fuss. Draw up a strict timetable of work and stick to it.
  3. Think internationally! Plan ways to enhance your academic reputation overseas.
  4. But if you are working with scholars overseas on projects, ask them if is possible to complete and publish the findings before the REF deadline. If not, explain that your part of the project may have to be put on hold.
  5. Target the most eminent journals and publishers in your field, but bear in mind publication in these is very competitive and you may be rejected. Have a ‘fall back’ plan.
  6. Work out whether you will need anything from your department (i.e. funding, extra time off teaching duties) in order to achieve this.
  7. Most academics are unhappy with this way of assessing their work, but ignoring the REF will not make it go away! Plan your contribution now!

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