What is the future of research and research assessment?

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Although technology, policy, and the international environment are changing the UK research landscape, and many researchers expect to produce more diverse forms of outputs in the future, they also think journal articles and conference contributions will remain the dominant form of output. Similarly, peer review is also likely to remain the principal method for research assessment in the UK, with new technological approaches expected to support its implementation.


The UK is a world leader in producing high-quality research and conducting national research assessments. These assessments have been conducted in the UK since the 1980s.

The research landscape is changing, reflecting a shifting international environment, rapid technological development and developments in public policy. RAND Europe worked with Research England to explore current and future changes in the research landscape and how this may affect the nature of national research assessment after REF2021.


This study explored the indications, direction and trajectory of change in the research environment that may affect research assessment in the UK over a 5-10 year timeframe. Specifically, it explored the following questions and how responses to them may change in the future:

  1. Why assess research?
  2. What is being assessed?
  3. How are we assessing research?

This project formed part of a package of work that was undertaken by Research England, which considered the future of research assessment after REF 2021. .


The methodology used throughout the project consisted of a document review, workshops and a survey with academics to explore the above questions.


  • There are many reasons to assess research. In this study, we summarised them as six ‘As’: accountability, acclaim, advocacy, analysis, allocation and adaptability.
  • The reasons for assessing research are understood and interpreted differently by different stakeholders.
  • The rationale for, and emphasis of, research assessment is likely to evolve in the future.
  • Researchers currently produce a diversity of output forms.
  • Researchers expect to continue to produce journal articles and conference contributions, and that they will remain the dominant forms in many disciplines in the future.
  • Many researchers expect to start to produce more diverse forms of output aimed at a wider audience.
  • Researchers’ decisions on which forms of output to produce are influenced by factors such as career progression and personal preference, as well as institutional incentives and funder requirements.
  • Researchers from different disciplines currently produce different output forms, and researchers’ expectations suggest that these differences will continue in the future.
  • More researchers expect that there will be societal impacts from their research in the future, although the balance of types of impact is expected to remain largely the same.
  • Societal impact types differ across disciplines, and this is not expected to change.
  • Researchers expect that they will continue to focus the majority of their efforts in the future on producing outputs.
  • Respondents had differing views as to whether the importance placed on societal impact should increase or decrease in the future, and the reasons for this change.
  • Researchers think that collaborating with other academics is the most important driver of change.
  • There are significant differences across disciplines in the perceived importance of most of the drivers, although the three most important drivers are consistent.
  • Overall, most drivers were seen as more important by PhD students and early career researchers than by mid-career and established researchers, particularly open science.
  • Peer review is the predominant method for research assessment in the UK, and there is no expectation that this will change.
  • Technological approaches are expected to further support peer review in the future.
  • Cultural shifts, as well as technological shifts, are both needed and happening.