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BPS Policy Unit

Research excellence - a framework for success?

29 October 2018 | by BPS Policy Unit

A week or so on from drafting and submitting the Society’s response to the Research Excellence Framework 2021 consultations, and the outcome of the consultation process notwithstanding, how is the framework for 2021 looking?

There are some important changes from REF2014 – such as the submission of staff with “a significant responsibility for research”, the de-coupling of staff from outputs, additional measures to support interdisciplinary research and the broadening and deepening of the definition of impact.

In relation to Psychology itself, the explicit recognition from the Unit of Assessment (UOA) 4 – Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience Sub-Panel, that it expects submissions from “all areas of psychological research with humans and animals”, is a significant and very welcome statement.

Our own research showed that the returns from the discipline were significantly fragmented under REF2014, with submissions made to at least 16 different sub-panels.

The next step is to do what we can to ensure that the Unit of Assessment descriptors from other sub-panels do not explicitly encourage that fragmentation through inclusion of specific areas of the discipline in their remit. For example, in UOA 24: Sport and Exercise Sciences, Leisure and Tourism or UO 17: Business and Management Studies.

The BPS position is clear. Under REF2021, we want all Psychology research to be returned to UOA4. The work of the sub-panel and the open and honest presentations from its Chair, Professor Sue Gathercole, very much indicate that this is a shared desire.

Psychology made up a huge proportion of the submissions to UOA4 in REF2014, therefore, in 2021 there is a very real potential for this figure to increase.

The current criteria setting sub-panel reflects this demand for psychological expertise with half of its members drawn from areas of the discipline. The assessment sub-panel will also be expanded through recruitment of additional experts in 2020 in accordance with HEI submission intentions.

We have raised considerable concerns regarding the lack of an explicit qualitative methods expert on the sub-panel and that waiting until 2020 would be too late to protect the inclusion of qualitative research in submissions to UOA4.

Professor Gathercole has been openly receptive of and sympathetic of these concerns, however, as the appointment of sub-panel members ultimately rests with Research England and the other main funding councils in the UK, there is a need to continue repeating our message, but at organisationally higher levels, to Kim Hackett  (REF Director) and Steven Hill (Director of Research).

There is a lot of work for the BPS to do help support individual researchers to heads of departments, Psychology REF leads, pro-VCs for research and the like, to return all types of psychological research to the same sub-panel.

The Qualitative Methods in Psychology Section has just published guidance for qualitative researchers in writing for the REF

We also need to provide more guidance in relation to impact, public engagement and knowledge exchange.

The economic argument is not an insignificant one and we appreciate that it feeds into the judgements that will be made by institutions. However, we will do all we can, working with relevant stakeholders throughout the REF cycle (including the UOA4 sub-panel and its Chair), to support a pattern of submissions to UOA4 which represents Psychology as we know it, and not just a proportion of it. 

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