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Publication of this information, by the REF team on behalf of the four UK higher education funding bodies, is a key stage in preparations for the REF. Through the REF, the quality of research in all UK Universities and higher education colleges will be assessed, and the results will be used by the UK funding bodies to allocate research funding.

Universities and higher education colleges will be invited to submit their highest quality research in 36 subject groupings called units of assessment (UOAs). The submissions will be assessed by an expert sub-panel for each UOA, working under the leadership and guidance of four main panels. Today's guidance sets out how each of the main panels and sub-panels will operate and the criteria they will apply.

From July to October 2011, the REF team and REF panels consulted on draft panel criteria and working methods. The REF team received around 400 responses to the consultation, and discussed the draft criteria at a number of events including four workshops with ‘users’ of research from the private, public and third sectors.

Respondents welcomed the draft criteria and in particular the move to greater consistency in the approach across the panels, compared with the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise (the precursor to the REF). Key points raised in the consultation were:

  • An overwhelming majority of respondents supported allowing people who had taken maternity leave to provide one fewer research output (from the maximum of four per person) for each period of maternity leave. This was one of two options we had proposed regarding maternity leave. An early decision was made in favour of this approach and was announced in October.
  • There were calls for even greater consistency across the panels in some specific areas.
  • Some further opportunities to reduce the burden of data collection were identified.

The panels, the four UK funding bodies and the REF team have carefully considered the responses and refined the criteria. The changes respond positively to the issues raised. For example:

  • the approach to requesting that an output of extended scale and scope should be 'double-weighted' (count as two outputs in the assessment) will be consistent across the exercise
  • Main Panel C provides examples of impact, in line with the other main panels
  • the information required about the author’s contribution to a co-authored output has been reduced and is more consistent across the panels
  • some of the panels that had proposed additional data about the research environment have reduced these requirements
  • terminology and language used in the main panel statements is consistent, wherever the same meaning is intended.

Graeme Rosenberg, REF Manager, said:

'I would like to thank all those who responded constructively to the consultation on the draft panel criteria. Their input was invaluable in helping to refine the criteria and work through a number of important details in how the assessment will be carried out.'

Once the final panel criteria are published, institutions will have comprehensive information to guide their REF preparations. The deadline for submissions is 29 November 2013 and the results will be published in December 2014. From 2015, the four UK funding bodies will use the results to inform the allocation of research funding, currently around £2 billion per year.

The REF panel criteria are published on the web.