Stern review: response from the sector

Lord Stern's review of the research excellence framework was published today. This is how UK higher education is responding...

July 28, 2016
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The Independent Review of the Research Excellence Framework, chaired by Baron Stern of Brentford, president of the British Academy, was published today.

First up, you might want to check out our news story covering the finer points of Lord Stern's landmark review of the research excellence framework.

You might also want to read what the lord himself has to say about today's report

Below, you will find response and reaction to the report, posted as as we received it. 


Universities minister, Jo Johnson, tweets...


Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group:

“We are pleased that Lord Stern has not suggested a major overhaul of the REF which has the additional benefit of avoiding an increase in the burden of the exercise as our universities will be able to draw on previous experience of REF 2014 to prepare submissions. In particular, we welcome Lord Stern’s advice that the highly regarded and well-established peer review process be broadly maintained while allowing scope for metrics where they are seen to be useful and appropriate.

 “If implemented carefully, the recommendation of 100 per cent submission for research-active staff will be helpful in minimising the risks of game-playing and the burdens of the REF but perverse consequences including increasing workload must be anticipated and avoided. We aim to work closely with the government to make sure that any new system rewards universities for undertaking the very best research and on a scale that makes a real difference but at the same time reduces costs and burden as much as possible.

 “Research conducted at Russell Group universities has an incredibly wide variety of impacts from public health and the environment to social affairs and the economy. But it is also vital that excellent research is recognised for its own inherent value so as not to miss out on the numerous benefits that can emerge unpredictably. We are pleased that the recommended institution-level approach will allow Russell Group universities to demonstrate the critical mass of excellent research across their institutions and further recognise the important interdisciplinary work that they undertake.

 “The review also reflects our recommendations around a sensible approach to the use of metrics, simplification of the environment section to take an institutional view supported by certain disciplinary level information, introducing some more flexibility around impact case studies and support for the resubmission of case studies where additional impact can be evidenced." 


Chris Hewson, Salford University:


Sally Hunt, University and College Union general secretary:

‘We welcome Lord Stern’s findings that we need a diverse higher education sector and that the REF must support excellence wherever it is found across our institutions. Any reforms that stop academics making choices based on the need to maximise REF outputs, rather than the contribution they can make to human knowledge, should be welcomed. 

‘We support a move towards greater academic staff inclusion in the REF, but this mustn’t lead to a rigid demarcation between research and teaching-focused careers. We are pleased Lord Stern has recommended broadening out how impact is measured. Following his call last week for teaching and research to support each other, we would like to see measurements extended to cover the impact on higher education teaching and learning." 


The UK's higher education funding bodies, including the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce)

”The review provides clear principles and direction of travel. We support its finding that a substantial reinvention of the REF would increase uncertainty, workload and burden.

”The UK government and the devolved administrations will now need to consider the report and make their views known on next steps. The UK higher education funding bodies will also carefully consider the recommendations. Subject to the views of our respective ministers, we intend to launch a consultation as soon as possible before the end of 2016.

”We look forward to working closely with the sector over the coming months and through the consultation period."


Alex Rushforth, Leiden University:


Pam Tatlow, chief executive of MillionPlus:

“Lord Stern has produced some interesting and wide-ranging findings, one of which, the proposal that all staff should be submitted to the REF, is likely to result in academic staff contracts being refocused on either teaching or research. Bearing in mind the HE and Research Bill and the restructuring of government departments there has to be a concern that this could drive a further wedge between teaching and research and may limit rather than enhance opportunities for early career researchers. The attempt to limit gaming of the transfer market by linking research with institutions rather than individuals needs to be carefully considered, including the consequences for funding. 

“The proposal that the REF impact factor should be more broadly defined is helpful but we would argue that impact should be given much more weighting. The implications of the proposed link between the new definitions for environment and impact will also need careful consideration."


Stephen Curry, Imperial College London:


Roger Kain, vice-president for research and higher education policy at the British Academy:

“At a time of political turbulence, the review makes eminently sensible recommendations to build on the strengths of a core part of the UK’s research sector, which is consistently recognised as internationally outstanding. Quality-related funding (QR), distributed through the REF as part of a dual-support system, is crucial in fostering excellent research, wherever it is found, particularly for research in the humanities and social sciences. We are especially pleased to note the recommendation that ‘impact’ should be less narrowly interpreted, and reconceptualised to include public engagement and teaching, drawing on the body of a researcher’s work.  This will allow the wider benefit of research across the disciplinary spread to be articulated.

“Requiring all research-active staff to submit to the exercise will also negate the substantial opportunity costs that universities currently incur in their selection processes, and help to eliminate the damage to some researchers’ careers that selection of staff for tactical reasons brought about. And introducing a new institutional level assessment will encourage and recognise greater collaboration.   

“It is also good to see that interdisciplinary research has been tackled head-on by the review, drawing on the academy’s recent Crossing Paths report, with a call for better recognition of interdisciplinary submissions and the specific suggestion that interdisciplinary champions are placed on subpanels.”


Peter Backus, University of Manchester economist:


Jo Johnson, universities and science minister:

“Lord Stern recognises the advantage that our world-class research base brings to the UK and the key role our universities play in delivering high-quality teaching, driving productivity and economic growth. I would like to thank Lord Stern and his steering group for their considered insights and recommendations which clearly set out how we can build on the strengths of previous assessments and reduce the burdens on academics to ensure we retain our global leadership in groundbreaking research.”


Robert Bowman, Queen's University Belfast:


Maddalaine Ansell, University Alliance chief executive:

"We are pleased that Lord Stern recommends that the principles of the REF – including assessment predominantly by peer review – should not change. We do have concerns about submitting all research-active staff. There can be significant variation in how much time faculty members spend on research that leads to returnable outputs, as many also engage in teaching or contract work for business. 

"However, enabling institutions to return more outputs for some research-active staff and fewer for others may provide some flexibility. The priority will be ensuring research excellence is funded wherever it exists. The REF must not just reward universities with the highest numbers of research-active staff. We also agree that the REF should recognise the impact of research on teaching in line with the TEF." 


Gordon McKenzie, GuildHE chief executive:

“GuildHE welcomes Lord Stern’s review and its conclusion that the broad structure of the REF should be maintained. In particular, we welcome his strong endorsement for supporting excellence wherever it is found. His review explicitly acknowledges the importance of a diverse higher education sector and the need for the REF to support excellent research across institutions of different sizes and specialisms. We argued strongly for coherence between the REF and the TEF and warmly welcome his recommendation to broaden the range of research and scholarship-based activities that can be used for impact case studies to include the impact of research on innovation in teaching theory and practice."

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