Getting ready for the REF

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This article outlines the requirements for academic staff who will submit outputs to the REF, the timescale for doing so, and special considerations of the process such as impact. It also investigates the effect that these developments will have on the academic jobseeker.

REF: requirements

The REF (Research Excellence Framework) is the new way of assessing the research quality of the UK’s higher education institutions. The next audit of research output will take place in 2014. Academics holding a permanent position will already be working with colleagues and administrators to ensure the correct submission of their own research. But this procedure also affects those who are looking for a permanent job and those who are coming to the end of their PhD.

Staff will be required to submit four research items, or fewer if early in their career or having had time out, for example for sickness or maternity.  These items will be judged by panels of subject-based experts. There are 36 assessment teams working under the guidance of four main panels.

For a detailed overview of the REF, please see the HEFCE page: 


Institutional administrators have many deadlines concerning the practicalities of submitting data to the REF exercise and with assessing and improving the research environment.

But there are three significant deadlines for academics in 2013 relating to the ‘outputs’ which they will need to produce.

 July 31 2013 is the end of the assessment period for impact projects, information about the research environment, and the awarding of doctoral degrees. 31 October 2013 is the census date on which staff chosen for submission will be assessed. However, 31 December 2013 is the final date for publication of research items for assessment. So anything published after 1 January 2008 and before 31 December 2013 is eligible for this review.


One aspect of the process that has been causing much agonising among staff is the introduction of the criteria of ‘impact’, which will count for 20% of the assessment. It is one of the three major themes underpinning the research assessment alongside ‘outputs’ (65%) and ‘environment’ (15%). Universities will be required to provide case studies showing research impact. As HEFCE says:

Case studies may include any social, economic or cultural impact or benefit beyond academia that has taken place during the assessment period, and was underpinned by excellent research produced by the submitting institution within a given timeframe. Submissions will also include information about how the unit has supported and enabled impact during the assessment period.

What should I do: staff?

Ensure that you have your four best items of research ready for the census of research output. Most staff will have published a number of items in the last five years and will be easily able to meet these criteria, with the only difficulty being which ones to select. But some staff may now find themselves short of items or perhaps concerned that their publications will not be out in time to meet the deadline. This is the time to start negotiating with publishers to make sure that they are aware you need to aim for the end of 2013 at the latest.

What should I do: jobseeker?

You need to show on application forms and at interviews that you are aware of the issues surrounding the REF and that you can make a contribution to it, perhaps by providing an impact case study, and definitely by providing some research outputs to count towards the census. The REF panels are instructed not to “make use of journal impact factors, rankings or lists, or the perceived standing of the publisher, in assessing the quality of research outputs.” (from the REF’s Panel Criteria and Submissions document 1/2012). However, for your own career development you should be aware that the prestige of journals and publishers are still important to hiring committees.

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