Review of the UK Research Excellence Framework – Building on Success and Learning from Experience

The independent review of the process for assessing university research and allocating public funding has been published by Lord Stern today (28 July 2016), outlining proposals to protect and strengthen the UK’s leadership in world-class research.

President of the British Academy Lord Nicholas Stern was commissioned by the government to carry out the review of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) to ensure future university research funding is allocated more efficiently, offers greater rewards for excellent research and reduces the administrative burden on institutions.

The REF is run every 5 to 6 years and requires UK universities that conduct research to submit their top research papers, demonstrating the impact of their work, for assessment. The results of the REF are then used to inform the allocation of government funding to universities for research.

Stern’s review of the Research Excellence Framework - Building on Success and Learning from Experience sets out proposals including:

  • to count all research active staff in the REF but varying the number of pieces they might submit - currently higher education (HE) institutions select the staff that will be included and this innovation will ease pressure and encourage academics to research new areas or on a longer time-scale
  • widening and deepening the notion of research “impact” to include influence on public engagement, culture and on teaching, avoiding distortions of research choices and careers
  • introducing a new institutional level assessment to foster greater cohesiveness between academics and reward collaboration on interdisciplinary activities

The report also highlights that the REF should continue to support excellence wherever it is found.

Responding to the review, Universities and Science Minister Jo Johnson said:

Lord Stern recognises the advantage that our world class research base brings to the UK and the key role our universities play in delivering high-quality teaching, driving productivity and economic growth.

I would like to thank Lord Stern and his steering group for their considered insights and recommendations which clearly set out how we can build on the strengths of previous assessments and reduce the burdens on academics to ensure we retain our global leadership in ground-breaking research.

The REF is a UK-wide process and the government will now work with the devolved administrations and the higher education funding bodies to consider the detail of the recommendations before formally responding. A full consultation on the next REF will be published later this year.

Notes to editors:

  1. Building on Success and Learning from Experience: an Independent Review of the Research Excellence Framework is published online.
  2. The review was announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the Autumn Statement 2015.
  3. Lord Nicholas Stern is the President of the British Academy and IG Patel Professor of Economics and Government at the London School of Economics. He undertook this review on a personal basis.
  4. Lord Stern was supported by a high-level steering group of academic experts, and an advisory group drawn from across the HE sector and including representatives from the devolved administrations. A call for evidence drew over 300 responses from across the sector.
  5. The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is an exercise that takes place every 5 to 6 years to assess the quality of research produced from UK universities.
  6. The results of the REF are used by higher education funding bodies across the UK to inform the allocation of annual quality-related (QR) research funding to individual higher education institutions. This is the university block grant, which for English universities is allocated from the £4.7 billion science and research budget and amounted to circa £1.6 billion in 2015 to 2016.
  7. The remainder of the £4.7 billion science and research budget funds, for example, competitive grants awarded by the research councils.