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BPS Policy Unit

Research Excellence: how is REF 2021 shaping up?

15 February 2019 | by BPS Policy Unit

Following the publication of the latest set of Research Excellence Framework (REF) guidance at the end of last month, we now have a clearer idea of how the next exercise will be run and confirmation of which of the earlier proposals have now been adopted.

From our point of view, there are a number of important and significant decisions and this really reflects the receptiveness of the sub-panel and the REF Team to concerns from the academic community.

The proposals for split costing for “high” and “other cost” research have been dropped due to concerns regarding unintended consequences on researchers and the disciplines under UOA4 (Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience).

The overall outcome for the discipline is extremely important given the potential risks of such split costing. More importantly, the decision to pass further considerations of costing to Research England is a much welcomed decision as the REF is about quality and excellence, not costs.

As the extension of the UOA4 descriptor for Psychology to ensure the greater inclusion of the breadth of Psychology was recommended by the BPS and alternative wording suggested, it is particularly gratifying to see this being adopted.

Even more gratifying is the announcement of the appointment of a qualitative methods expert to the sub-panel. The BPS argued long and hard for this appointment to avoid the high risk of significant negative impacts on staff in this sub-field and the actions of Professor Sue Gathercole (UOA4 Chair) in response to these concerns is extremely welcome.

Other interesting elements confirmed include Panel A’s agreement to welcome continuation impact case studies as much as new ones.

Case studies will be able to refer to a wide range of evidence and indicators, with no preference of one kind of evidence over another. Continuation case studies must have no significant new research underpinning the impacts and the impacts and beneficiaries must be similar to those included in the 2014 case study. Both of these conditions must be met, so this means that they must not include new impact with new beneficiaries, and impacts with the same beneficiaries has to be based on the same original research.

Moreover, impacts underpinned by research from different HEIs or different Units from within the same HEI can submit identical descriptions of impact but must include evidence of the “distinct and material contribution to the impact”.

Public engagement is clarified as being a pathway to impact and not impact itself. This means that it will be important to show the impact that the engagement had, rather than just the act of engagement. The case study must demonstrate that the engagement was “at least in part, based on the submitted unit’s research and drew materially and distinctively upon it”.

Additional guidance is also provided on parliamentary impact in Annex A of the Panel Criteria and Working Methods.

Parliamentary impact relates to the use of research by parliamentarians in analysing issues, raising concerns, identifying inquiry topics, informing policy and legislative development. Impact is demonstrated by direct citation or acknowledgement in parliamentary outputs such as Hansard, committee reports, submissions or briefings, qualitative and quantitative indicators from research events, evidence of close working relationships (minutes of meetings, co-authorship etc), testimonials from Parliamentarians or their staff and evidence from parliamentary proceedings or processes (such as new legislation).

The role of research in generating attitude or opinion change, raising concerns etc. that lead to a change in government policy or approach is also explicitly recognised.

Impact, including wider contributions to the economy and society, can also be included in the environment statement if it is not captured in the impact case studies. An Impact Strategy must also be provided in the environment statement, although the guidance on what this should cover is not very specific and just refers to enabling and facilitating the achievement of impact.

The element of the REF that seems to have triggered the most discussion and concern is the permitting of HEIs to submit outputs from staff who have been made redundant. There are number of significant concerns in relation to this not least that at a time when there is a need to increase commitment to sustainable, secure career pathways, especially for postdocs, HEIs have one less incentive to do so.

I will now be focusing on ensuring that the BPS provides a portfolio of guidance for researchers and units in relation to submissions and impact, as well as evaluating what submission patterns may look like.

We are also looking at a future relaunch of BPS Impact as a conduit for the achievement of impact.

If you have any comments, queries or suggestions of what else the BPS can do to support researchers in the REF, please do get in touch.

- Dr Lisa Morrison Coulthard CPsychol AFBPsS - Head of Research and Impact

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