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Dear Vice-Chancellor or Principal

1.   The four UK higher education funding bodies recently consulted on proposals for the future arrangements for the assessment and funding of research – the Research Excellence Framework (REF)see note 1. This letter informs stakeholders about the high-level outcomes of the consultation and the next steps in implementing the REF.

Consultation responses

2.   We received 534 responses and would like to thank respondents for their thoughtful and constructive input, which will help to ensure we develop arrangements that will carry the confidence of key stakeholders.

3.   Across the responses there was overwhelming support for:

  • the continuation of block-grant research funding as part of the dual support system, to be allocated on the basis of research excellence
  • research excellence to continue to be assessed through a process of expert review, informed by indicators, and to be assessed on a UK-wide basis with reference to international standards
  • the quality of research outputs to continue to be the primary factor in the assessment, and the vitality of the research environment also to be a significant factor.

4.   There was widespread support in principle for including an element for the explicit assessment of impact within the REF from higher education institutions, mission groups, the national academies, research user representatives and other funders of research, and from a clear majority of academic subject associations. Many qualified their support by emphasising the need to develop a robust method for assessing impact, and suggested the weighting for this element within the overall quality assessment should be lower than the proposed 25 per cent. A significant minority of responses objected to our proposals for the assessment of impact, and as an initial response to this we set out in Annex A some ways in which the proposals we are developing will meet their concerns.

5.   Responses provided a wealth of feedback on all the key issues on which we had consulted. A summary of the responses is now available at www.hefce.ac.uk/ref alongside the consultation document (HEFCE 2009/38).

Initial decisions and next steps

6.   In the light of the consultation feedback the UK funding bodies have taken initial decisions on many key aspects of the design of the REF, with the main exceptions being the configuration of panels, the method for assessing impact, and the weightings between outputs, impact and environment. We 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.

7.   Initial decisions about the REF and the basis for taking forward the assessment of impact are set out at Annex A.

8.   Further details about these decisions, as well as the panel configuration and details of the process for recruiting panels, will be published later in the year. The method for assessing impact and the weightings between the three elements will be determined after the current impact pilot exercise has concluded in autumn 2010.

9.   At this stage we are:

  1. Progressing with the impact pilot exercise. All 29 pilot institutions have now made their submissions and we have recruited expert panels for the five pilot Units of Assessment, to assess the submissions and report on the lessons learned. Each pilot panel includes a broadly even mix of leading researchers and prominent, highly qualified representatives of the audiences, beneficiaries and users of research from across a wide range of sectors relevant to each Unit of Assessment. Further details are available at www.hefce.ac.uk/ref.
  2. Inviting applicants for the roles of Chairs Designate for the REF Main Panels. In the light of widespread support for this proposal, there will be four Main Panels see note 2, and we wish to make an early start in appointing Chairs Designate to these. Initially they will advise on the further planning and design of the assessment framework, before taking up their roles as Main Panel Chairs once the panels are in place. Further particulars are available at www.hefce.ac.uk/ref.
  3. Establishing an expert group to advise on strengthening measures to promote equalities and diversity in the REF, as outlined at Annex A, paragraphs 30-31.

10.   As we proceed we are keen to have continuing, extensive dialogue with a wide range of stakeholders, especially in developing the impact element. As part of this, we are sponsoring King's College London to hold a conference in June to discuss the progress of the pilot exercise. Details will be available shortly.

Further information

11.   Further details are available at www.hefce.ac.uk/ref, including:

  • the summary of consultation responses
  • the advertisement and further particulars for applications to become Main Panel Chair Designate
  • details about the impact pilot exercise, including membership of the Impact Pilot Expert Panels.

Yours sincerely

Sir Alan Langlands
Chief Executive


Notes

  1. The consultation document, 'Research Excellence Framework: Second consultation on the assessment and funding of research' (HEFCE 2009/38), may be read at www.hefce.ac.uk/ref.
  2. There was also widespread support for rationalising the sub-panels, but we are still working on the configuration of a number of specific sub-panels, taking account of the consultation feedback.

Annex A - Initial decisions on the Research Excellence Framework

Download the Annex A - Initial decisions on the Research Excellence Framework as PDF (41 KB)

Date: 25 March 2010

Ref: Circular letter 04/2010

Enquiries should be directed to:

For further information contact ref@hefce.ac.uk