Summary of REF decisions by the REF SIG

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Having issued its initial decisions on the Research Excellence Framework 2021 on 1 September 2017, HEFCE released its further decisions on staff and outputs on 21 November 2017.  These decisions have been informed by responses to key questions relating to staff and outputs (HEFCE Circular letter 33/2017) and a survey of staff in scope for submission.

These decisions cover the following aspects of the exercise:
•       Submitting staff
•       Small submissions
•       Submitting outputs
•       Number of impact case studies required
•       UOA structure and multiple submissions
•       Eligibility to participate in the REF for providers in England.

The key elements to note are:

1.      Submitting staff: All staff with a significant responsibility for research are to be submitted. The core eligibility criteria is ‘academic staff with a contract of employment of 0.2 full-time equivalent (FTE) or greater, on the payroll on the census date, whose primary function is to undertake either ‘research only’ or ‘teaching and research’. Where this criteria accurately identifies staff with a significant responsibility for research, 100 per cent of staff should be submitted. Where it does not, institutions are required to implement processes to determine this.

Staff should have a substantive connection with the submitting institution (with a statement to evidence this being required for those on the minimum 0.2 FTE contract).

Only staff considered to be ‘independent researchers’ are eligible for submission. Further guidance appropriate to the discipline areas will be issued in due course, building on the generic definition of ‘undertaking independent research, leading or acting as a principal investigator or equivalent on a research grant or significant piece of research work’.

The number of Category C staff (individuals employed by an organisation other than a Higher Education Institution (HEI), whose contract or job role includes the undertaking of research) will be captured in the environment element of the exercise. For inclusion, the research undertaken must be primarily focused in the submitting unit on the census date.

The census date for staff will be 31 July 2020.

2.      Submitting outputs: The number of outputs required will be determined by the FTE of submitted staff, with flexibility to return outputs from across the unit’s staff within minimum and maximum limits for each individual.

The average number of outputs required per FTE will be 2.5.

The number of outputs for each submission will be calculated by multiplying the total FTE of submitted staff by 2.5 (rounding being applied to give a whole number).

The minimum of one output will be required for each staff member employed on the census date and a maximum of five outputs may be attributed to individual staff members (including those who have left). Attributing five outputs to one staff member does not preclude the submission of further co-authored outputs as long as these can be attributed to another member of staff.

3.      Output portability: A transitional approach is being adopted whereby outputs may be submitted by both the institution employing the staff member on the census date and the originating institution where the staff member was previously employed when the output was demonstrably generated.

‘Demonstrably generated’ will be determined by the date when the output was first made publicly available.

In general, there will not be a requirement for former staff to remain employed in academia on the census date. Therefore, outputs by staff who have moved into a different sector, died or retired will be eligible for submission.

A full set of eligibility criteria for output submission will be issued in due course.

4.      Open access: The REF Open Access policy will be implemented as previous set out. This requires outputs within the scope of the policy (journal articles and some conference proceedings) to be deposited as soon after the point of acceptance as possible, and no later than three months after this date from 1 April 2018.

Due to concerns around deposit on acceptance, a deposit exception will be introduced from 1 April 2018 and remain in place for the rest of the REF 2021 publication period. This will allow outputs unable to meet this deposit timescale to remain compliant if they are deposited up to three months after the date of earliest publication (normally the first online publication date).

5.      Impact: Submissions will include a total of one case study, plus one further case study per up to 15 FTE staff submitted, for the first 105 returned (with a reduced requirement above this). Submissions will therefore include a minimum of two case studies.

6.      Small submissions: Institutions will be able to request the exclusion of very small units (fewer than 5 FTE) from submission in exceptional circumstances.

7.      Code of practice: All institutions are required to provide a code of practice covering the following:
•       The institution’s processes for ensuring a fair approach to selecting outputs.
•       Where applicable, the institutions’ processes for identifying staff with a significant responsibility for research.

The code of practice will need to be need to approved by the relevant funding body (Scottish Funding Council for Scottish institutions), with advice from the Equality and Diversity Advisory Panel (EDAP).

8.      Staff identifier: Although the Open Researcher and Contributor ID (ORCID) will not be used as the staff identifier for REF 2021, institutions are strongly encouraged to submit an ORCID for all submitted staff. ORCID is likely to be mandated in future exercises.

9.      Further guidance: The draft ‘Guidance on submissions’, consultation on ‘Panel criteria and working methods’ and detailed guidance on developing codes of practice will be published in summer 2018.

The final ‘Guidance on Submissions’ and ‘Panel criteria and working methods’ will be published in January 2019.

By Helen Young, University of Stirling, REF SIG co-champion

Read more information on REF 2021 here

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