‘Additional measures’ considered amid concern over REF deadline

Universities express concern about diversion of clinical academic staff to front-line services and impact of lockdown

January 13, 2021
Source: istock

UK research funders are considering “additional measures” to help universities enter the country’s research excellence framework (REF) after institutions raised concerns about the impact of the latest surge in Covid-19 cases.

The assessment of research quality, carried out every six years to help determine university budgets, was paused for four months in March 2020, when the pandemic hit, and the deadline pushed back.

But the UK’s four main funding bodies have resisted calls for further delays or the abolition of the exercise entirely, stating that it will go ahead this spring.

In a message on 13 January, the REF’s organising team says that it is liaising with the UK’s four funding bodies after receiving correspondence about “the effects of Covid-19, and the related restrictions, on REF submission preparation, including on the effects where clinical academic staff are being called to frontline services”.

The pandemic had also caused complications for “research professional staff in finalising submissions under the lockdown restrictions in place”, the message adds.

While the statement does not mention whether the current submission deadline of 31 March would be delayed, it says that information received “has been helpful in informing our contingency planning”.

“With the submission deadline drawing closer, we understand that universities will want information about any further contingency measures as soon as possible,” it says. “The REF team are reviewing this urgently with the four UK funding bodies, and intend to confirm any additional measures next week.”

Funders have already announced a series of exemptions to try to make sure academics hit by the pandemic will not be penalised.

For example, academics can be exempted from the need to submit a research output to the REF if they have suffered ill health themselves, taken on caring duties or been diverted to front-line healthcare.


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