UK funders seek views on ‘rolling’ research excellence framework

Staggering REF over multiple years could cut costs and reduce ‘perverse’ hiring practices, consultation suggests

February 22, 2022
Source: istock

A “rolling” research excellence framework is one of the options under review to eliminate “perverse behaviours” around hiring and publishing, a consultation says.

Announcing the start of a three-month consultation on the national audit of research, the UK’s four higher education funding bodies suggest that the exercise might be run on a rolling basis, rather than focused on a single fixed point every six to seven years.

Summarising a series of discussion groups held with researchers and university administrators in recent months, the consultation states there was some support for moving to continuous assessment, in which different units of assessments, or larger disciplinary groups organised under the REF’s current four panels, were scrutinised in sequence.

This change “might remove some of the perverse behaviours linked to the cyclical nature of the REF, particularly around recruitment and publishing practices”, the document states.

“It was suggested that this would also reduce burden at an institutional level as effort would be spread across a number of years, rather than focused on a single end point,” the consultation adds. “As with the frequency of the exercise, any decision to move to a rolling exercise must be weighed up [against] the potentially destabilising effect of such a change,” it continues.

The consultation by Research England, the Scottish Funding Council, the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales and Northern Ireland’s Department for the Economy will end on 6 May.

It invites comments on how any future REF could support positive research cultures, what type of outputs should be recognised by the exercise and who should be entered into the REF – individuals, departments or institutions – and whether assessment should be organised around self-defined research themes.

University staff are also asked to comment on the idea of increasing the use of metrics within the REF, rather than relying on peer review by appointed panels, and what steps could be taken to make the exercise less bureaucratic.

The consultation follows the creation of a review group of international experts, chaired by New Zealand’s former chief scientist Sir Peter Gluckman, who will consider the shape of the next version of the REF. The results of the latest round of the REF will be announced in May.

Catriona Firth, associate director of research environment at Research England, said it was “crucial that those who work in and engage with the research sector have their voices heard at this early stage in the development of the next exercise”.

“By holding the consultation at this point, we hope the sector will be able to contribute meaningfully to the design,” she said, adding that she hoped to “develop a system that is built on robust evidence and reflects the priorities of the sector”.

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Reader's comments (5)

I can't recommend this highly enough. In several countries they have rolling evaluations by subject field - some of which might be relevant for your institution, others not - so universities aren't constantly pitted against one another.
So change the influence of REF on 'perverse hiring practices' from occurring once every 6-7 years to it occurring every year?? Sounds like a sensible plan.... not!
The whole thing is a waste of time and money. Ditch the ref and spend the money on funding operations in the NHS. Who care about another academic article.
If you are going to do REF, do yearly. Would any management be so "perverse" to be able to pull off their gaming tactics every year? Wouldnt it be too costly in terms of time and resources? but then wannabes may be willing to do anything! Include staff and student suverys as part of this exercise. Assess the universities on more diverse range of KPIs. Stop them from using the REF results for marketing purposes directly or indirectly. Stop ex-REF panel members from selling their services as consultants- we dont need a market for REF panel membership!
I can see academics being beaten up every. year by managers wanting to know what you have for the ongoing REfF hardly conducive to doing quality research.