‘Open question’ whether REF still needed to improve research

Stern Review steering group member says unclear whether assessment still drives up quality

February 20, 2017
 Man Shrugging his Shoulders
Source: iStock

Whether the UK still needs a research excellence framework (REF) in order to drive up research quality is a “very open question”, according to a steering group member of the recent Stern Review into the controversial exercise.

Dame Julia King, former vice-chancellor of Aston University, argued instead that the purpose of the periodic review now was to justify public investment and decide how to distribute money between universities.

Since 1986 the UK has run centralised assessments of research quality, with the 2014 REF arguably the most complex and wide-ranging so far. It has been criticised as overly burdensome and stressful for academics, but one of the key arguments in favour has been that this competitive process has helped to improve the quality of UK research over recent decades.

Last year’s review of the REF, led by British Academy president Lord Stern, concluded that “over thirty years the RAE [the research assessment exercise – the REF’s predecessor]/REF has supported a sustained improvement in the quality and productivity of the UK research base.”

But speaking at a conference in London on 14 February, Dame Julia said that while the steering group had believed that “historically” there was “strong” evidence the exercise had improved standards, this was now not necessarily the case.

“I think we thought there was a very open question about having got to where we’ve got to, having got the kind of competitive [research system], do you now need it to continue driving research quality up,” she said.

“I think we had some discussion about whether…you still needed it,” Dame Julia told delegates at Promoting Excellent Research: Learning from REF2014 and Implementing the Stern Review, hosted by Policy-UK.

“But we also felt this is a large expenditure of public money and there is a very important issue about accounting for and demonstrating we deliver value for public money and also that we need to have a way of distributing this very significant sum of public money,” she added.

The UK’s four funding bodies are now seeking further views on some of the Stern review’s recommendations, such as the idea that academics should not be able to enter pieces of research done at previous universities. 


You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Assistant Recruitment - Human Resources Office

University Of Nottingham Ningbo China

Outreach Officer

Gsm London

Professorship in Geomatics

Norwegian University Of Science & Technology -ntnu

Professor of European History

Newcastle University

Head of Department

University Of Chichester
See all jobs

Most Commented

men in office with feet on desk. Vintage

Three-quarters of respondents are dissatisfied with the people running their institutions

students use laptops

Researchers say students who use computers score half a grade lower than those who write notes

Canal houses, Amsterdam, Netherlands

All three of England’s for-profit universities owned in Netherlands

Mitch Blunt illustration (23 March 2017)

Without more conservative perspectives in the academy, lawmakers will increasingly ignore and potentially defund social science, says Musa al-Gharbi

sitting by statue

Institutions told they have a ‘culture of excluding postgraduates’ in wake of damning study