Research Excellence Framework: HEFCE Announces Consultation Outcomes


On Friday HEFCE announced the results of its recent consultation with the sector on the Research Excellence Framework (REF), the next instalment of research assessment for universities in the UK.

Research Excellence Framework – consultation outcomes

As well as highlighting what other HEIs and sector bodies thought of the REF proposals released by HEFCE in autumn 2009, this document also acts as an update on the potential structure of the REF. There haven’t been any major changes since the last time we reported on this – the majority of the responses focused on the need for clarity around how social and economic impact of research will be measured and assessed.

The final proposals for the REF won’t be released until after the general election, and the specific method by which impact will be assessed won’t be released until autumn 2010, following a pilot which is currently ongoing. The Conservatives have said they would delay the exercise if they are in power.

The key findings from the consultation are as follows:

Across the responses there was overwhelming support for:

  • the continuation of block-grant research funding as part of the dual support system, to be allocated on the basis of research excellence
  • research excellence to continue to be assessed through a process of expert review, informed by indicators, and to be assessed on a UK-wide basis with reference to international standards
  • the quality of research outputs to continue to be the primary factor in the assessment, and the vitality of the research environment also to be a significant factor.

There was widespread support in principle for including an element for the explicit assessment of impact within the REF from higher education institutions, mission groups, the national academies, research user representatives and other funders of research, and from a clear majority of academic subject associations. Many qualified their support by emphasising the need to develop a robust method for assessing impact, and suggested the weighting for this element within the overall quality assessment should be lower than the proposed 25 per cent. A significant minority of responses objected to our proposals for the assessment of impact.