Response to Lord Stern’s Review of the Research Excellence Framework

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Following a consultation with our members, we have submitted a formal response to Lord Stern's review of the Research Excellence Framework.

In our view the Stern Review needs to address the fact that the REF process has some negative influences on the choices of individual researchers and higher education institutions. Specifically, it needs to address the following:

  1. How to stop negative behaviour in terms of “high transfer fees”, discouraging collaborative working and support for Early Career Researchers from experienced researchers;
  2. Recognising and rewarding creative, risky and innovative work;
  3. Recognising and rewarding shorter term research projects;
  4. How to stop gaming by institutions;
  5. The focus on publishable research over impact.
  6. The negative impact of the REF on promoting interdisciplinary research, collaboration with universities, and/or collaboration between universities and other public or private sector bodies.

We believe that possible solutions are:

  1. Assign Intellectual Property to the institution rather than the individuals (although this may make the UK a less attractive destination for researchers);
  2. Lower the expectations on Early Research Careers in terms of quantity required;
  3. Restrict the use of fractional appointments permitted to submit where they are based in a non-UK institution;
  4. Anonymise submissions to prevent any unconscious bias;
  5. Interdisciplinarity research should be given an added weight. A separate panel could be set up to review this.

Our members advocate the following additional changes to existing REF processes so as to help Government and research funders in driving research excellence and productivity:

  • Greater importance could be given to research environment and culture, and an indicator of capacity building within each institution, measured by the number of home grown PhD and Early Career Researcher staff who achieve success.
  • Include a measure of the longevity of relationships with external end-users of the research.
  • Increase the measurement of impact by broadening and refining it while at the same time adding a measure of engagement.
  • Reduce the number of units of Assessment by combining linked areas, for example business and management with economics.

Our members believe that the REF process has negatively influenced the development of academic disciplines because it has accentuated bias towards single disciplines and more narrowly defined subject fields and against problem-led, cross disciplinary research.