Understanding researcher views on the UK’s national assessment programme, REF2021

Office employee working with documents at table, photo by New Africa/Adobe Stock

New Africa/Adobe Stock

What is the issue?

The Research Excellence Framework (REF) assesses the quality and wider impact of research in the UK’s higher education institutions, as well as the vitality of the research environment in which it is conducted. The assessment is then used to help guide the allocation of funding by the UK’s research funding bodies.

The REF is associated with driving research quality and raising the profile of research activities within institutions. Despite its importance in shaping research cultures, there is little systematic and nuanced evidence about how academics across the sector view the REF, and which aspects are viewed favourably or unfavourably.

How are we helping?

RAND Europe will lead a real-time evaluation of the REF 2021 assessment process while researchers submit their work. The aim is to understand researcher perceptions around the REF, how they view the experience and to see how it affects academic environments.

To do so, we will build on the experience of a promising pilot exercise developed at Cardiff and Sheffield universities, as well as previous RAND Europe research in the higher education sector. A large-scale survey and qualitative fieldwork will capture perceptions from a broad selection of researchers at UK higher education institutions (see below), including viewpoints from institutional leadership, REF administrators and managers, and a wide cross-section of senior and early-career researchers across a wide range of disciplines.

Participants will be asked about their attitudes towards the REF, their knowledge and experience of the REF process, and the impacts of changes to REF 2021 following the Stern Review. Participants will also be asked to comment on the perceived impact of the REF on the research culture and their views on what the purpose of the REF is and what it should be.

This study was commissioned by UKRI, on behalf of Research England, the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, the Scottish Funding Council and the Department for the Economy of Northern Ireland, to provide insight and help inform the future of the REF beyond 2021. RAND Europe is conducting the study in collaboration with the University of Sheffield and Cardiff University.

Share your experience

To ensure this research is as inclusive as possible, the survey is open to any academic who is eligible to submit to the REF.

Participate in the Survey

Participating higher education institutions

  • Aberystwyth University
  • Bath Spa University
  • Bournemouth University
  • Cardiff University
  • Glasgow Caledonian University
  • Keele University
  • Liverpool John Moores University
  • London School of Economics (LSE)
  • Queen’s University Belfast
  • Royal Veterinary College
  • Swansea University
  • Teesside University
  • The University of Aberdeen
  • The University of Brighton
  • The University of Central Lancashire
  • The University of Chester
  • The University of Essex
  • The University of Exeter
  • The University of Kent
  • The University of Lincoln
  • The University of Sheffield
  • The University of Southampton
  • The University of Sunderland
  • The University of Worcester
  • Ulster University