REF 2021: Hefce proposes fix for portability concerns

Both universities could gain credit when an academic moves, under plans

July 21, 2017
Sharing credit
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Credit for research outputs of an academic who has moved institutions could go to both universities in their submissions to the UK’s 2021 research excellence framework, funding councils have proposed.

Additionally, universities will be able to submit all their academic staff with a “significant responsibility for research” so as to “forgo the burden of setting up processes to identify staff for inclusion”, under the proposals.

In a webinar on 19 July organised by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, it was announced that both the “originating and new institutions” of an academic who had moved during the REF cycle “would be eligible to submit” the research outputs of that scholar.

Kim Hackett, REF manager at Hefce, told the audience that the “institution where the staff member has left” but where the outputs of their research “have been [demonstrably] generated” can submit, but so too can “the receiving institution…of their currently employed staff members”.

Dr Hackett added that this would “involve some double counting of outputs”, but said that it took into account Lord Stern’s concerns in his review of REF 2014 (in which he proposed that outputs should not be portable) and also sector responses to the consultation.

In a blog on the Hefce website, David Sweeney, director of research and knowledge exchange at Hefce, noted that Lord Stern’s proposals on portability received only “minority support” during the consultation process.

“We simply propose to implement the Stern proposal: that the institution where the research output was demonstrably generated and at which the member of staff was employed should retain full credit,” he writes. “However, in this cycle, credit will also go to the receiving institution.”

Dr Sweeney also outlined an “alternative hybrid approach to introduce limited non-portability from a set point in time”. In essence, institutions’ eligibility to submit outputs would depend on when an academic was recruited. If they were employed before the specified date, “2014 rules of full portability” would apply.

“Outputs from staff employed after this date would fall under the new rules,” he writes. “The new rules would allow a limited number of outputs to transfer with staff. Eligibility to submit outputs would otherwise be linked to where the staff member was employed when the output was first made publicly available.”

He concedes that “our sounding boards…blanched at the complexity when we...explained this hybrid model”.

Another of Lord Stern’s proposals questioned by the consultation responses was that all research-active staff should be submitted to the next REF.

Dr Sweeney told Times Higher Education that all research staff with a significant responsibility to undertake research should be included in submissions, but added that using “contract status alone to identify these staff” had met with criticism.

“Responses identified key concerns that this would bring in scope staff who don’t have this significant responsibility, so we set out an alternative approach,” he said. “This would involve institutions developing, consulting on and implementing their own processes to identify staff who are employed with a significant responsibility to undertake research, based upon auditable evidence.

“Institutions for whom contractual status does identify the majority of staff with this responsibility can forgo the additional burden of developing processes, and opt for 100 per cent submission,” he explained.

Dr Hackett told the webinar that the funding councils expected many research-intensive institutions would be able to accurately identify staff with a “significant responsibility to undertake research”, but Dr Sweeney added that Hefce would encourage “those that identify themselves as research intensive” to go for the 100 per cent submission option.

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