Westminster Higher Education Forum

Since lockdown, we have been organising our full programme of conferences online. We will continue online until further notice, to ensure we play our part in helping our employees and delegates to remain safe during this time. We are pleased that so many key stakeholders, policymakers and other interested parties - both old friends and new delegates - are taking up the opportunity to discuss public policy issues and network at our impartial seminars. New events are coming on to our conference programme all the time. So there are plenty of opportunities for you to join us if you haven’t already, from wherever you are. For booking-related queries, or information on speaking, please email us at info@forumsupport.co.uk or contact us using one of the following numbers: +44 (0)7951044809 / +44 (0)7503591880 / +44 (0)7538736244.
For delegates already booked on, we will send you the online joining instructions (including links, event numbers and passwords) five working days before your conference. If you cannot find these in your inbox please email delegate.relations@forumsupport.co.uk

Next steps for the REF - independence and positive research environments, delivering and measuring impact, and the future of open access

Morning, Tuesday, 23rd March 2021


***Full-scale policy conference taking place online***

This conference will examine the next steps for the Research Excellence Framework (REF).

The conference is bringing together key stakeholders and policymakers to assess:

  • the development of the current REF cycle
  • the future role of the Framework in the post COVID-19 higher education landscape

It follows:

  • the recent announcement of the REF 2021 timetable with a revised submission deadline of the 31st March 2021
  • evaluations of how to adapt the Framework to take into account the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic

The discussion at a glance:

  • influence of the REF - looking at research integrity and academic freedom
  • culture - priorities for developing and further rewarding positive research environments and an inclusive research culture as part of the REF, looking at:
    • research integrity and training - particularly for early career researchers
    • academic wellbeing and mental health
    • safe research cultures
    • equality, diversity, and inclusion
  • staffing - the impact of the ruling from Research England that all staff with significant responsibility for research should be required to participate in the Framework
  • the open science movement - its significance of for the next cycle of the Research Excellence Framework
  • beyond REF 2021 requirements - how far could the sector move, looking at:
    • the suitability of currently-available publishing models
    • digital scholarly infrastructure
    • the future for open access monographs
  • impact:
    • the criteria in the REF - with delegates expected to consider the significance of the increased weighting of impact case studies to 25%
    • delivery and assessment- best practice for demonstrating impact in research, as well as latest thinking and evidence on effective impact assessment

Key developments and the discussion in more detail:

Uncertainty faced by university research during COVID-19

  • support - recent governmental announcements of packages for UK universities, including £100m going towards supporting university research activities during the crisis
  • the Ministerial Research and Knowledge Exchange Sustainability Taskforce  - priorities for its work on:
    • identifying impacts of the pandemic on university research bases in the UK
    • sharing sources of support for protecting HEIs continued capacity to carry out research and for ensuring its capability to contribute to societal and economical recovery from COVID-19

Fostering transparent and supportive research environments

Key sector initiatives aimed at providing support, and with publication of:

  • the updated Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers
  • the Concordat to Support Research Integrity.


  • expert sub-panels for REF 2021 - the recent call for further nominations from under-represented groups 
  • Notice of a joint Research England and Office for Students funding competition to reduce inequalities in postgraduate research study - aimed at supporting projects to improve access and participation of black, Asian and minority ethnicity postgraduate research students

Safeguarding and learning from the challenges faced during the pandemic

  • the response at times of heightened need - action to ensure a healthy research culture at a time of disruptions to institutional oversight processes and safeguarding procedures

Research integrity

  • skewing - concerns from some within the sector about a possible influence of the Framework in slanting research outputs away from a researcher’s original academic intent and values
  • original focus - reports of some researchers being asked by their institutions to revise the focus of their research in order to accommodate the REF
  • gaming the system - indications of concern amongst some academics that the impact agenda was having a negative effect on research cultures and encouraged ‘institutional game-playing’ strategies
  • assessing feedback - findings in the summary of the Real Time REF Review Pilot Study commissioned by Research England to capture feedback from academics on the REF 2021 process
  • judging the culture - inclusion of assessments into how universities develop scholars’ careers and a supportive academic culture in the next REF


  • increase expenditure - government’s ambition for research and development funding to rise to 2.4% of GDP by 2027
  • COVID-19 - the announcement by UK funding bodies of pandemic-related exceptions from the REF submission rules, in order to account for disruption to academics’ research output
  • Brexit - the question of continued UK participation in EU programmes for research, innovation and higher education, including Horizon 2020 and the implications for collaboration and open research


  • Substantial increase expected in number of staff submitted in REF 2021 - preliminary figures published by REF
  • Higher Education Staff Statistics: UK, 2018/19 - HESA reporting that almost a third of higher education staff to now have teaching-only contracts

Open access

  • the UK Research and Innovation Open Access Review and consultation - which aims to develop a clear, joined-up OA policy across UKRI, which is due to be finalised in 2020
  • Open access research - UK HE funding bodies expected to carry out a consultation into future open access policy in the REF after the announcement of Research England's current position (REF 2021

The agenda:

  • Key priorities for the REF
  • The Real Time REF Review - outcomes from the pilot study
  • Research environments in the REF - stimulating positive cultures and wellbeing, academic independence and interdisciplinary research
  • Next steps for open research - alignment with UKRI open access policy and the broader open science agenda
  • Delivery and measurement of impactful research - the significance of increased weighting, ‘institutional game-playing’ and the evidence base for effective impact assessment

Policy officials attending:

Our forums are known for attracting strong interest from policymakers and stakeholders.

It’s certainly the case with this one. Places have been reserved by pass-holders from the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, and officials from UKRI; the Government Office for Science; BEIS; Defra; the Department for Transport; the Department of Health and Social Care; DFID; GCHQ; the Health and Safety Executive; the Ministry of Justice; the National Crime Agency; The Scottish Government; and the Welsh Government.

This is a full-scale conference taking place online***

  • full, four-hour programme including comfort breaks - you’ll also get a full recording to refer back to
  • information-rich discussion involving key policymakers and stakeholders
  • conference materials provided in advance, including speaker biographies
  • speakers presenting via webcam, accompanied by slides if they wish, using the Cisco WebEx professional online conference platform (easy for delegates - we’ll provide full details)
  • opportunities for live delegate questions and comments with all speakers
  • a recording of the addresses, all slides cleared by speakers, and further materials, is made available to all delegates afterwards as a permanent record of the proceedings
  • delegates are able to add their own written comments and articles following the conference, to be distributed to all attendees and more widely
  • networking too - there will be opportunities for delegates to e-meet and interact - we’ll tell you how!

Full information and guidance on how to take part will be sent to delegates before the conference

Keynote Speaker

Dr Steven Hill

Director of Research, Research England

Keynote Speaker

Dr Steven Hill

Director of Research, Research England


Lord Norton of Louth

Baroness Diana Warwick of Undercliffe


Dr Laura Bellingan

Science Policy Manager, Royal Society of Biology

Sofia Fernandes

Open Research Manager, University of Exeter

James Murray

Associate, Taylor Vinters

Professor Thom Brooks

Dean & Chair in Law and Government, Durham University

Professor Sylvia Walby

Professor of Sociology and Director, Violence and Society Centre, City, University of London and Chair, Sociology Sub-Panel, REF2021

Dr Julie Bayley

Director of Research Impact Development and ARMA Director of Qualifications, University of Lincoln

Dr Emma Williamson

Reader in Gender Based Violence, University of Bristol

Professor Paul Phillips

Professor of Strategic Management, Kent Business School, University of Kent

Caroline Sutton

Director, Open Research, Taylor & Francis

Professor Anne Boddington

Pro Vice Chancellor, Research, Business & Innovation, Kingston University

Dr Juergen Wastl

Director Academic Relations and Consultancy, Digital Science

Professor Dave Jones

Dean, National Institute for Health Research Academy