Stern Report on the Research Excellence Framework

28 July 2016

Commenting on the publication of the Stern Review of the Research Excellence Framework Director General of the Russell Group Dr Wendy Piatt said:

“The Research Excellence Framework (REF) has played a key role in driving up the quality of research and maintaining the UK’s well-deserved international reputation for excellence in research and innovation. As such we are pleased that Lord Stern has not suggested a major overhaul of the REF which has the additional benefit of avoiding an increase in the burden of the exercise as our universities will be able to draw on previous experience of REF 2014 to prepare submissions. In particular, we welcome Lord Stern’s advice that the highly-regarded and well-established peer review process be broadly maintained while allowing scope for metrics where they are seen to be useful and appropriate.

“If implemented carefully, the recommendation of 100% submission for research-active staff will be helpful in minimising the risks of game-playing and the burdens of the REF but perverse consequences including increasing workload must be anticipated and avoided. We aim to work closely with Government to make sure that any new system rewards universities for undertaking the very best research and on a scale that makes a real difference but at the same time reduces costs and burden as much as possible.

“Research conducted at Russell Group universities has an incredibly wide variety of impacts from public health and the environment to social affairs and the economy. But it is also vital that excellent research is recognised for its own inherent value so as not to miss out on the numerous benefits that can emerge unpredictably. We are pleased that the recommended institution-level approach will allow Russell Group universities to demonstrate the critical mass of excellent research across their institutions and further recognise the important interdisciplinary work they undertake.

“The review also reflects our recommendations around a sensible approach to the use of metrics, simplification of the environment section to take an institutional view supported by certain disciplinary level information, introducing some more flexibility around impact case studies and support for the re-submission of case studies where additional impact can be evidenced.

“The REF is a fundamental part of the UK’s dual support system for research funding and as such we need to be sure that any changes are delivered by Government in a timeframe that gives everyone the best opportunity to adjust. This review, the new HE and Research Bill and the EU referendum result represent a significant period of change for universities. The cumulative impact of all these changes could potentially be disruptive so time, consultation and consideration is required before they are implemented and embedded into the architecture for higher education research.”

Notes to editors

  1. Our report Engines of Growth: the impact of research at Russell Group universities and accompanying film highlight how research from Russell Group universities generates billions of pounds in returns to the UK economy, has an impressive impact on the health and quality of life of the nation and contributes to our rich cultural life and heritage. From an initial sample of 240 research impact case studies:
  • 48 gave data on economic benefits totalling £21 billion in the six years from 2008 to 2014 – a return of £100 for every £1 on investment
  • The average time from initial research to first impacts was 8 years, ranging from less than one year to almost 30
  • 89% of case studies had ongoing impact.


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