Ref Consultation

The key issues:

  1. Staffing: There is a proposal that institutions will no longer select which UoAs they return to. Instead the proposal is to require institutions’ returns to be driven by their HESA code.
  2. Equality and Diversity: The proposal to accept 0-6 items carries with it an implication that allowance for individual staff circumstances (eg for maternity leave or long term illness) be jettisoned. This may lead to discriminatory practice at institutions.
  3. Portability (Decoupling Staff from Outputs): How do you feel about the proposed non-portability of items? Do you have any feedback regarding some of the potential challenges: Where should long-term research production such as monographs be credited? Can the challenges this will present for ECRs be resolved?

We invite comments on these issues as these will be used to inform the Association’s response to the Consultation. Please send your comments to Phil Powrie (Chair) and Andy Moor (Vice-Chair) using the jiscmail list. 

There follow extracts from the consultation document relating to the above issues.

Staffing

Question 7: Do you have any comments on the proposal to use HESA cost centres to map research-active staff to UOAs and are there any alternative approaches that should be considered?

Question 8: What comments do you have on the proposed definition of ‘research-active’ staff?   

§42 Lord Stern’s Independent Review of the REF stated that ‘it is important that all academic staff who have any significant responsibility to undertake research are returned to the REF’13. The review recommended that all research-active staff should be returned to the REF.

Decoupling staff from outputs in the assessment

Question 9: With regard to the issues raised in relation to decoupling staff and outputs, what comments do you have on:

  1. the proposal to require an average of two outputs per full-time equivalent staff member returned?
  2. the maximum number of outputs for each staff member?
  3. setting a minimum requirement of one for each staff member?

§47 In our view, an approach that decoupled staff and outputs would most likely work by determining a set number of outputs to be submitted for each submitting unit according to the number of eligible staff in the unit. It may be more appropriate to determine this number by taking an average of the eligible staff over a set period, rather than from a single census date. Lord Stern’s Independent Review recommended that rather than prescribing the return of four outputs for each member of staff, a future REF should prescribe maximum and minimum limits on the number of outputs that can be submitted for each individual.

§48 We anticipate that this approach would negate the need for arrangements to account for individual staff circumstances and may contribute significantly towards deregulation in the exercise. However, this could potentially lead to the under-representation in submissions of research produced by some groups of staff (for example, early career researchers), and so we welcome views on this issue and its possible impact.

Portability of outputs

§53 In previous assessment exercises, research outputs were linked to submitted staff, and could be returned for assessment by the institution currently employing the staff member regardless of where they were employed when the output was produced. We note some comments about the effect of this policy on staff recruitment around the census date and about related salary inflation, which we would like to explore in this consultation. The approach described in paragraph 47, whereby the submission of outputs is decoupled from individual staff, would include a significant change to the assessment process in linking outputs wholly with the submitting institution.

§54 In recognition of these issues, Lord Stern’s Independent Review recommended that outputs should be submitted only by the institution where the output was demonstrably generated. The review recommended that if individuals transfer between institutions (including from overseas) during the REF period, their works should be allocated to the HEI where they were based when the work was accepted for publication. We are aware that for some types of outputs, particularly monographs and portfolios, a single date of acceptance may be hard to identify, and for some outputs (performances, CDs, films), date of acceptance may not be a relevant term. In addition, for these outputs, where an output was demonstrably generated may be difficult to evidence.

§56 We are aware that significant concerns have been raised about the unintended consequences of such an approach. The main issue raised has been the potential for non-portability to have a disproportionately negative impact on certain groups, for example in relation to the career progression of early career researchers, and to act against appropriate dynamism in the sector, for example by limiting the movement of researchers between industry and HEIs. Views are sought on this issue and potential mitigating actions. We are aware of some suggestions that outputs produced by individuals on fixed-term contracts should continue to be portable. However, we are also aware that this approach could capture the work of individuals not considered to be disadvantaged by the non-portability of outputs, such as emeritus professors. Alternatively, outputs could remain portable for individuals not submitted to REF 2014.

Question 10: What are your comments on the issues described in relation to portability of outputs, specifically:

  1. is acceptance for publication a suitable marker to identify outputs that an institution can submit and how would this apply across different output types?
  2. what challenges would your institution face in verifying the eligibility of outputs?
  3. would non-portability have a negative impact on certain groups and how might this be mitigated?
  4. what comments do you have on sharing outputs proportionally across institutions?

Individual staff circumstances

§ 63 We still aim to support equality and diversity in research careers. As noted in paragraph 48, we anticipate that decoupling staff and outputs would negate the need for arrangements to account for individual staff circumstances and may contribute significantly towards deregulation in the exercise. However, we are aware this could potentially lead to the under-representation in submissions of research produced by some groups of staff (for example, early career researchers), and welcome views on this issue and its possible impact.

The HEFCE consultation includes the paragraph above but invites no response on this. Institutions will have to comply with Equality legislation and their own staff protocols. Ought the REF be more explicit?