'Expert review' is to be part of REF

But Hefce refuses to define extra data that will be used to judge research quality. Zoe Corbyn reports

May 29, 2008

From the volume of intellectual property income academics generate to research co-authored with businesses, the Higher Education Funding Council for England refused this week to rule "in or out" any of the extra information that could be used in future to judge research quality and determine an annual £1.4 billion of funding to universities.

But in a letter to vice-chancellors this week, Hefce indicated that the traditional notion of "peer review" would be broadened to include "expert review", which would potentially see non-academics help judge research under the forthcoming research excellence framework.

The new detail follows the Government's U-turn last month, when plans to judge science and non-sciences differently were scrapped in favour of a "unified framework".

In the letter, Hefce says it has now established the "shape" of this framework. It says that each subject will be assessed using "some or all" of the following:

  • "bibliometric indicators of quality" or "expert review of outputs", or a combination
  • "other quantitative indicators"
  • "supplementary qualitative information".

It says that this would produce a spectrum, which would see at one end some subjects assessed by bibliometrics, such as the number of times academics' published work is cited in other research papers, combined with other numerical indicators. At the other end, subjects would be assessed by "expert review" in combination with non-numerical information.

A Hefce spokesman said it had deliberately refrained from listing any of the types of new numerical or non-numerical information that could be included, for fear that the sector would take it to imply that decisions had been made.

"We are not ruling anything in or out," he said, but added that metrics on research income and postgraduate student numbers - which Hefce had said previously would feature - are likely to remain.

Respondents to Hefce's consultation in February suggested a range of additional information to measure the impact of academics' work. These ranged from the number of patents lodged and IP generated to papers jointly authored with business. Suggestions for measuring impact on government policy development included using citations of research in various public sector documents.

The letter to vice-chancellors also sets out the next steps forward. It says that in parallel to the planned pilot of the bibliometrics indicator, it would "develop (its) approach to choosing and using other quantitative and qualitative indicators" and develop proposals for "light-touch approaches to expert review".


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