Launch of REF to be delayed a year

Funding changes rescheduled to give more time to pilot new metrics-based system, writes Zoe Corbyn

April 10, 2008

The implementation of the new funding system to replace the research assessment exercise is set to be delayed, Times Higher Education understands.

The decision to put back the timetable by a year comes after a consultation revealed widespread demands for more time to develop the research excellence framework.

The REF will controversially use metrics, such as the number of times academics' published work is cited by their peers, to judge research quality in science subjects. These findings will be used to determine the allocation of billions of pounds of research funding. It will largely maintain a peer-review assessment process for arts, humanities and social sciences.

As Times Higher Education went to press, a final decision was understood to be with John Denham, the Universities Secretary.

Under original plans for the REF, the timetable for science subjects was to be much tighter than for non-science subjects.

The system for science subjects is being piloted this year alongside the RAE 2008 with further consultation with universities planned for August.

The original intention was to have the system ready in early 2009 and to phase it in gradually between 2010 and 2014.

Extending this timetable would align it closer with the development of the system for non-science subjects, which was due to begin operating in 2013.

In a recent consultation, which closed in February, many parties including the Russell Group and the 1994 Group of research-led universities and Universities UK called for an extension of the existing timetable by 12 months to give more time to run pilots and test the approach.

"The robustness of proposals is considered to be more important than the proposed timescale," said the Russell Group in its submission.

David Eastwood, chief executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England, told delegates at the council's annual conference in Warwick this week that the consultation on the REF had raised two key concerns: the need for a system that took into account differences between science and the arts when applying metrics or peer review and "the issue of the timetable, which looked particularly tough".

Pledging to continue to consult with the sector over the plans, he added: "If I can make one plea, it is that we collectively resist the desire to turn a system that could be one of simplicity into one of baroque complexity.

"We remain committed to full implementation of a new framework by 2014," he added.

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