UKRI-commissioned study conducts real-time review of the upcoming REF 2021

Laboratory researchers working, photo by Vasyl/Adobe Stock

Vasyl/Adobe Stock

5 October 2020

A new study led by RAND Europe will conduct a real-time review of the upcoming REF 2021, evaluating researchers’ perceptions of the assessment process while they are preparing and submitting their work.

The not-for-profit research organisation, with partners Cardiff University and the University of Sheffield, is seeking to understand attitudes towards REF 2021 and how it affects academic environments. Cardiff and Sheffield led a pilot exercise last year, and this study will build on that prior work, as well as drawing on previous RAND Europe research in the higher education sector.

The pilot study examined the feasibility of a longitudinal evaluation of researchers’ perceptions and attitudes towards REF 2021 at four institutions in the UK: University of Sheffield, Cardiff University, University of Sussex and University of Lincoln.

Data from the pilot will now be used in a longitudinal analysis, mapping changes in experiences and attitudes from a year ago. A further large-scale survey and qualitative fieldwork will capture perceptions from a broad selection of researchers from higher education institutions, including viewpoints not just from REF administrators and managers, but a wide cross-section of senior and early-career researchers.

The study will ask researchers about topics such as their level of involvement in REF 2014 and 2021; attitudes towards the REF and perceptions of its role and purpose(s); views on challenges and opportunities of the REF for the sector and beyond; perceptions on the REF as a driver of research behaviours and culture; and the practical preparations for REF 2021 at their institution, including lessons learned and changes from REF 2014.

This work gives the sector the opportunity to give their views on the REF process and help shape and improve it in the future. By conducting the review in real time, alongside preparations for the exercise, we can help accelerate the process of learning and revision post-REF 2021 and provide more clarity and perspective on the future of the REF to institutions at an early stage for the next round of assessment. The timetable for this work remains in-line with REF 2021, reflecting the pause to the exercise as a result of COVID-19, and efforts will be made to capture the impact of the pandemic on preparations for the assessment.

The study has been commissioned by UKRI to help the UK’s four research funding bodies, Research England, the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, the Scottish Funding Council and the Department for the Economy of Northern Ireland, gain insight into perceptions of the REF and inform planning for beyond 2021.