Evidence to the Stern Review of Research Excellence Framework

24 March 2016

The REF is a fundamental part of the UK’s dual support system for research funding. Whilst there is certainly scope to improve the REF and give more emphasis to critical mass at the institutional level, it should be recognised the RAE/REF has succeeded in driving up the quality of research in the UK by supporting a research culture focused on excellence.

The REF should not be used as a regulatory or compliance tool as this undermines its focus on excellence.

As a mechanism to underpin the distribution of QR funding, the REF is a relatively cost-effective exercise, although we would like to see costs reduced further. This could be achieved by, for example, extending the period between REF exercises, introducing a red tape challenge to identify simple practical changes, ensuring REF and Research Council requirements align where practical, introducing an institution-wide (but overall less burdensome) environment assessment and streamlining impact assessment.

We would welcome a lighter touch REF overall and there are some areas where metrics can be useful, but peer review should remain at the heart of the process, with metrics used where appropriate to complement and aid human judgement.

By maintaining the broad structure of the REF and broadly similar rules, universities will be able to draw on their experience of REF 2014 in order to prepare submissions more efficiently. Major changes to the exercise will require universities to invest additional time and effort in understanding new structures, processes and rules.

Metrics may be seen at first sight as a quicker and cheaper alternative to peer review, but it is essential to be aware of the many shortcomings in their use. Importantly, metrics lack the element of judgement provided by the long-established and internationally-respected peer review process.

Evidence to the Stern Review of the Research Excellence Framework

Related case studies