Westminster Higher Education Forum

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

April 2021

Price: £95 PLUS VAT

***Full-scale policy conference taking place online***
This conference will examine the next steps for the Research Excellence Framework (REF).

Delegates will discuss:

  • 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 by the Minister for Science, Research and Innovation of a review into the REF with Research England, working with devolved counterparts and looking at possible reform once the 2021 exercise has concluded
  • confirmation 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 is bringing stakeholders together with key policy officials who are due to attend from POST; UKRI; the Government Office for Science; BEIS; British Consulate General Guangzhou; Defra; DfT; DHSC; the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office; GCHQ; the HSE; the MoJ; the National Crime Agency; The Scottish Government; and the Welsh Government.

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

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 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:

  • COVID-19 - and uncertainty faced by university research:
    • support - 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 their capability to contribute to societal and economic recovery
    • the response at times of heightened need - what action to take to ensure a healthy research culture at a time of disruptions to institutional oversight processes and safeguarding procedures
  • 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
    • R&D Roadmap survey - responses focused on the need for sustained funding, national collaboration, hubs, networks and knowledge exchange along with a diversified and inclusive research community
  • diversity:
    • expert sub-panels for REF 2021 - the 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 ethnic postgraduate research students
  • 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 - 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, with the full study being conducted by RAND as institutions prepare to submit for REF 2021
    • judging the culture - inclusion of assessments into how universities develop scholars’ careers and a supportive academic culture in the next REF
  • funding:
    • increased expenditure - following the announcement in the Spending Review of a £15bn investment into R&D in 2021, along with further increases expected to raise core funding by £1.4bn by 2023
    • 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 - continued UK participation in EU programmes, despite loss of access to the European Innovation Council Accelerator, and the implications for collaboration and open research
  • staffing:
    • Substantial increase expected in number of staff submitted in REF 2021 - preliminary figures published by REF
    • Higher Education Staff Statistics: UK, 2019/20 - HESA reporting that 32% of higher education staff 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, with the finalised policy expected in Q2 2021
    • 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

Policy officials attending:

Our forums are known for attracting strong interest from policymakers and stakeholders. 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; British Consulate General Guangzhou; Defra; the Department for Transport; the Department of Health and Social Care; the Department for International Development; GCHQ; the Health and Safety Executive; the Intellectual Property Office; 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 and transcript 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

This pack includes

  • Dropbox video recording of the conference
  • PDF transcript of the discussion, including all speaker remarks and Q&A
  • PDFs of speakers' slide material (subject to permission)
  • PDFs of the delegate pack, including speaker biographies and attendee list
  • PDFs of delegate articles