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The four UK higher education (HE) funding bodies today announced the outcomes of the recent consultation on the Research Excellence Framework (REF) – the new system for assessing research in UK higher education institutions (HEIs).

The consultation revealed overwhelming support for research to continue to be assessed though a process of expert review, and for the main factor in the assessment to continue to be the quality of research outputs produced by institutions.

There was widespread support in principle for an explicit assessment of the social and economic impact of research, subject to developing a robust methodology, and reservations about the weighting of this element within the overall assessment.

In the light of the consultation feedback the four funding bodies have made some refinements to the proposals and announced initial decisions about the general arrangements for the assessment.

A pilot exercise that will be vital in developing the method for assessing impact is currently in progress. It involves 29 UK HEIs and panels of experts made up of leading researchers and senior figures from a wide range of organisations that commission and use research including businesses, public sector bodies, charities and other third sector organisations. A full detailed announcement about the method for assessing impact and its weighting within the framework will be made after the pilot exercise has concluded in autumn 2010.

The four funding bodies are considering the overall timetable for the completion of the first REF exercise, in the light of feedback from the consultation and the refinements we are making.