RAE sequel looks strangely familiar

REF consultation shows new assessment model does not represent a radical departure from its predecessor. Zoë Corbyn reports

September 23, 2009

It was pitched as a radical reinvention of the system for assessing and funding research, with labour-intensive peer review to be replaced by a heavily metrics-based approach.

But in the event, the proposals for the research excellence framework unveiled by the Higher Education Funding Council for England on 23 September resemble a reimagining of the research assessment exercise rather than a revolution.

In a 56-page consultation document, Hefce acknowledges that the system is very different from the controversial plans tabled 18 months ago.

“While we remain concerned to reduce the burden of the assessment, we believe we have exhausted the main options for any radically different approach [to the RAE],” it says.

Hefce reveals that 60 per cent of the assessment process will be based on “output quality”, 25 per cent on “impact” – the economic and social impact of an academic’s research – and 15 per cent on “environment”.

It adds that the number of sub-panels that assess work will be cut by more than half.

The REF will replace the RAE as the mechanism for distributing about £2 billion of quality-related research funding each year.

As in the RAE, output quality will continue to be judged based on peer review: however, research citation data will be available to “supplement and inform” assessment in some subjects.

Impact will be judged only for high-quality research and must be evident “during the REF assessment” period, although the research itself could have been carried out ten to 15 years earlier.

The environment measure will consider data on research income, the number of postgraduate research students and their completion rates.

Hefce’s draft plan is to apply the same 60:25:15 weighting across all units of assessment (UoAs), allowing “greater simplicity and comparability across the exercise”.

The number of UoAs and sub-panels will be cut from 67 to 30, with plans also tabled to reduce the number of main panels overseeing the sub-panels from 15 to four.

zoe.corbyn@tsleducation.com

  • For full details on the REF consultation, see Times Higher Education magazine on 24 September.

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