Normally the summer is a quieter time, perfect for finishing those papers that have been long in gestation, or writing that grant application that you have been telling yourself you must do. However, this summer I have been very busy with something else altogether, REF, or the Research Excellence Framework, to give it it’s full name.

As many of you already know, the Research Excellence Framework is the periodic review of University research quality undertaken by the Higher Education Funding Council for England on behalf of the government. The last REF assessment covered the period 2008-2013 and was published in 2014. REF is important because it is the mechanism by which the research support funding, termed quality-related research (QR) funding, is distributed to universities. The better we do in the REF assessment, the better the University’s income and the more there is available to invest in facilities, equipment and staff to support all of our research. If you want to find out more about REF you can find out more here: www.ref.ac.uk/

The next REF exercise is likely to take place in 2020 assessing research outputs published from 2014 onwards and, as yet, we do not know the rules against which we will be assessed. Years away I hear you say! Why the busy summer? Well that’s a good question. The most important reason for all the activity is that if we don’t plan now, we won’t be able to achieve the best return for the Faculty in the years ahead. We need to understand how the REF assessment is changing, what the quality of the Faculty’s research outputs to date are, and how we can best support colleagues to deliver the best research they can over the REF assessment period. You will be hearing much more about REF from me over the next few years but for now I just wanted to highlight a few specific areas.

Understanding the rules of the game: Planning for the REF is a bit like playing a game of rugby and being almost at the end of the first half but still not knowing precisely how the winner is going to be decided. At this stage we don’t know precisely what the next REF will look like. However, in the last few months the picture has become clearer with the publication of Lord Stern’s review of the REF. Assuming his recommendations are accepted, we can begin to understand what the next REF will look like. Significant changes for REF2020 include the suggestion that all staff should be returned instead of institutions selecting who is returned and who is not. It may also be that there may be flexibility on the number of papers submitted per person, so some individuals may submit more than others. This is likely to lead to less papers being submitted than the 4 per person required last time, and provides a further incentive for us all to concentrate on working on fewer, better, papers than publishing lots of incremental studies.

Another key change for the next REF that we already were aware of was the “open access mandate”. This says that copies of publications need to be uploaded into an institutional repository within three months of acceptance to be eligible for the next REF. It is vitally important that we all continue to deposit copies of our accepted manuscripts into e-prints. If you are not sure how to do this, please ask! There is lots of guidance on the excellent research support pages on the library website: http://library.soton.ac.uk/research. Every month I get sent a list of non-compliant papers published by members of the Faculty, please don’t let yourself appear on that list! And if you do, please respond promptly when we contact you!

Where are we at now? The other thing that has kept me busy over the summer the Faculty’s pilot REF exercise. Following our request earlier in the year for all academic staff to identify their best two papers published since 2014, a team has been busy reading and making an assessment of 580 papers you gave us (or found for you for those who didn’t respond!!). Over the next month we will analyse the data and get a picture of where we stand as a Faculty two and a half years into the REF assessment period.

What’s next? As well as research outputs, the other thing the REF assesses is the impact of our research on society. You can read the impact case studies we submitted to REF2014 here. Over the next few months we will be asking you all for potential impact case studies for the next REF. Keep an eye out for impact training opportunities and guidance coming your way soon

And finally: In the end we undertake research not for the sake of REF but because of our own intellectual curiosity, a desire to understand the world better and to improve the health of the population through better prevention and treatment of disease. If we do this to the best of our abilities, the REF will take care of itself.

Now, back to that paper I was working on…..

John

REF, REF and more REF…

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