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BPS Policy Unit

Research Excellence Framework 2021

28 June 2019 | by BPS Policy Unit

Dr Lisa Morrison Coulthard, Head of Research and Impact at The British Psychological Society, is back with an update on the development and trajectory of the Research Excellence Framework.

Since my last blog on the Research Excellence Framework (REF) back in February, there have been some exciting developments.

Most importantly, the much welcomed news of the timely appointment of Professor Brendan Gough as a qualitative methods expert to Unit of Assessment (UoA) 4:  Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience.

This was seen as a critical development for the UoA and for those qualitative and mixed methods researchers who may not have been considered for submission to that sub-panel otherwise.

Huge thanks must go to my qualitative colleagues, especially Dr Sarah Riley, and also to Professor Sue Gathercole, Chair of the UoA, for being open to further discussion of the need for this appointment and receptive to the concerns of potential negative and fragmentary consequences to the psychology research community in the absence of such an expert on the sub-panel.

We anticipate announcements regarding funding weights to the sub-panels in the next week or so.

This could also be a key moment for UoA 4 in terms of whether its funding is set at equivalent levels to the other science and medical science sub-panels, as, in terms of the overall financial benefits of submitting our research to the psychology sub-panel, such a decision from Research England and UKRI could have far reaching implications for potential submission intentions for our researchers and academics.

This is something that the Research Board has been keen to see established since REF 2014 and I very much hope that now the balance of expertise has been achieved, should such funding also be allocated, the risk of further damaging fragmentation of the discipline will hopefully be lessened. 

Ultimately, psychology is a science and it should be funded to an equitable level as the other sciences.

This month also sees a growth in the evidence base on the impact of the REF on individual researchers through the publication of The Real Time REF Review.

This review, commissioned by Research England and carried out by researchers at the University of Sheffield and Cardiff University (including Professor Geoffrey Haddock, social psychologist), evaluated the perceptions and attitudes of researchers and research managers to the REF.

Key findings included the moderately negative attitudes of academics to the REF, concerns regarding its negative impact on blue sky research and researcher authenticity (how closely the research represents their academic interests and values), and its impact on stress and wellbeing (but within the context of broader issues in academia also being causal factors).

Worryingly, 15% of respondents indicated that they had been asked to change the focus of their research to be “more REF-able”, while diminishing morale and encouraging game playing were other factors highlighted in the report. 

The publication of the report coincided with the launch of the BPS survey of REF submission intentions and activity. The aim of this survey is to enable us to develop a picture of the potential pattern of submissions across the academic community, what kinds of REF related activity which departments and HEIs are undertaking, and if there are any causes for concern relating to changes in responsibility, workloads etc, due to the forthcoming exercise.

I am intrigued to see the extent to which our survey results mirror those of the Sheffield/Cardiff work.  A good response rate will enable us to determine whether there are issues to raise with UoA 4, the REF Team or other sub-panels, so please do whatever you can to help spread the word and get colleagues to respond:

An important finding from the Sheffield/Cardiff project is that there seems to be no one single source of information on the REF, certainly not at early career level.

To address this and to build up our resources on the REF, I am currently preparing documentation on issues such as open access guidance, interdisciplinary research and assessment, and mixed methods research assessment to add to our portfolio of existing guidelines.

Briefings for individual researchers and departments on making the most of your REF submission – emphasising knowledge exchange and impact will also follow. Please also refer your ECRs to the presentations from the Early Career Psychologists event in March on You Tube.

If you have any queries or suggestions of what other initiatives would support individuals and departments in preparation for the REF contact [email protected]

Dr Lisa Morrison Coulthard

Head of Research and Impact.


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