Hefce likely to lessen the impact

Research “impact” will count for less than the proposed 25 per cent in the research excellence framework, funding chiefs are expected to confirm next week.

February 25, 2011

The Higher Education Funding Council for England is due to release on 1 March full details of the impact element of the inaugural REF, following a pilot assessment exercise that was run last year.

In a report published last November, the pilot panels, made up of roughly equal numbers of academics and “users” of research, said Hefce’s proposed assessment methodology based on case studies was appropriate for all subjects.

They also endorsed the use of a common impact weighting across all disciplines.

But the funding council is expected to respond to calls for the weighting to be less than 25 per cent for the first REF, which will be run in 2014 and used to distribute about £1.5 billion in annual quality-related research funding.

Last year’s report, Research Excellence Framework Impact Pilot Exercise: Findings of the Expert Panels, said that the weighting should be “sufficient to ensure it is taken seriously” but not so high as to undermine confidence in the REF due to impact’s “developmental” nature.

The pilot exercise involved 29 institutions, which submitted case studies to panels in English, physics, medicine, social work and social policy, and earth systems and environmental sciences.

The exercise also appears to have assuaged government doubts about the impact element.

When he entered office last year, David Willetts, the universities and science minister, postponed the REF by a year to permit further consideration of whether an impact assessment method could be found that was “robust” and commanded the confidence of the academic community.

Hefce must also decide whether to adopt the pilot exercise’s requirement for one case study for every 10 academics, drawing on research carried out over the previous 15 years that has had an impact in the previous six.

The physics panel called for all research carried out in the past 25 years to be eligible for assessment.


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