Evidence, not assertion 1

December 10, 2009

If Sally Hunt's article "The worst of all worlds" (3 December) and the University and College Union petition were my only sources of information about the research excellence framework, I'd want to sign up myself. The Higher Education Funding Council for England shares the UCU's commitment to protecting public funding for blue-skies research, and we would be delighted to see every researcher sign up to these principles. Unfortunately, the UCU has misunderstood several key points in the proposals on which the four higher education funding bodies (not Hefce alone) are consulting.

The REF will continue to support research of all kinds. We do not intend that funding should support only research for which impact can be predicted, or to subject activity to a "narrow mechanistic test of value"; nor do we expect to identify outcomes from every piece of research that our funding supports. Our aim is to assess (not measure) research impact across a broad range of activities, providing additional recognition where research delivers demonstrable benefits to society, public policy and services, culture, health, the environment, quality of life and the economy. We expect that many of the most significant impacts identified will flow from activity rooted in previous inquiries driven by curiosity alone.

We think it right that people who have commissioned and use research outcomes should play a significant role in the assessment of impact alongside leading researchers. How to achieve this is one of the issues on which we will make a final decision next year. It will be based on evidence and experience, including the outcomes of the REF consultation and the current pilot exercise, not on assertion.

We have noted the comment that impact arising from blue-skies research can occur in a number of different ways, and credit should be given to all of them.

We welcome responses to our consultation from the broadest range of interested organisations and individuals, but urge respondents to address the issues in the consultation document.

Paul Hubbard, Head of research policy, Hefce; http://www.hefce.ac.uk/research/ref/.

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