Hey REF! What’s it all about?

In this post, Lynne Harris from the Research Skills Team in Library Services introduces us to the Research Excellence Framework, and explains some of the terminology.

This blog post is about the Research Excellence Framework (REF).  It covers what REF is, why it matters to researchers and the REF submission process.

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It is important for the University to do well in the REF exercise as this has a direct impact on future funding for research.  This funding comes from the Government via the UK’s Funding Councils.  The key principle is that all research arising from such funding should be as widely and freely accessible as possible.

REF benchmarks research excellence across Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in the UK.  REF 2021 is based on the REF 2014 model following the Stern review (2016) which made recommendations for future REF exercises.  Previously this was a Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) process, last held in 2008.

As of 1st April 2018, the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) has become Research England, which is itself a constituent part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).  UKRI incorporates the 7 Research Councils (AHRC, BBSRC, EPSRC, ESRC, MRC, NERC, STFC) and Innovate England too.

Research England expects that all research active staff will submit items to the REF.  The minimum requirement is 1 submission, with a maximum of 5 submissions per researcher.  Journal and conference proceedings must be made available in Open Access (OA) form (Green or Gold) to be eligible for REF 2021.  Additional credit may be given for other material, such as OA monographs.

The University uses the Pure system to record research outputs.  Self-archiving material onto Pure immediately on acceptance for publication ensures compliance with Funder mandates.  Pure entries are checked for accuracy and then appear on the Research portal.

As a postgraduate researcher, you may be listed as a co-author for papers that are accepted for publication.  A Principal Investigator on a funded project may be your own supervisor.  It is important to have an ORCID (see previous blogpost), to make your contribution to research visible here at Birmingham and in your future academic career.

REF 2021 has 4 Main Panels covering broad subject areas with a number of sub-panels, each chaired by a senior UK academic:

  • A: Medicine, health and life sciences [6 sub-panels]
  • B:  Physical sciences, engineering and mathematics [6 sub-panels]
  • C:  Social sciences [12 sub-panels]
  • D:  Arts and humanities [10 sub-panels]

These sub-panels assess the submissions made to each of the 34 Units of Assessment (UoA).  Detailed criteria and guidance on the REF return and a deadline for the final submission will be announced in June.  See REF2021 News for the latest updates.

The components of assessment are:

  • 60% for outputs
  • 25% impact case studies (on cultural, economic, environmental, health, legal, political, societal, technological aspects)
  • 15% environment statements (about research support across the University).

The University is aiming for a high percentage of 4* and 3* submissions deemed to be ‘world leading’ and ‘internationally excellent’ respectively across a full range of UoAs.  This will ensure research funding in the post-2021 period.  The University has established a REF Management Committee to oversee the REF return process.

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