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PLANNING FOR THE RESEARCH EXCELLENCE FRAMEWORK AT GCU. The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is the new system for assessing research in UK higher education institutions (HEIs). It replaces the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE).

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The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is the new system for assessing research in UK higher education institutions (HEIs).

  • It replaces the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE).
  • The REF will be undertaken by the four UK higher education funding bodies:
  • Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE)
  • Scottish Funding Council (SFC),
  • Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW)
  • Department for Employment and Learning, Northern Ireland (DEL).
  • The exercise will be managed by the REF team based at HEFCE and overseen by the REF Steering Group, consisting of representatives
  • of the four UK higher education funding bodies

The REF will:

  • inform the selective allocation of research funding to HEIs on the basis of excellence
  • provide benchmarking information and reputational yardsticks
  • provide accountability for public investment in research and demonstrate its benefits.

The REF will be a process of expert review. Institutions will be invited to make submissions to 36 units of assessment (UoAs).

The submissions will be assessed by an expert sub-panel to be established for each UoA, working under the guidance of four main panels to ensure common procedures and consistent application of the overall assessment standards


Under current plans for the REF, three distinct elements will be assessed for each submission:

  • the quality of research outputs
  • the wider impact of research
  • the vitality of the research environment

The profile method of assessing research quality introduced

in RAE2008 will be used for REF2014:

4* World leading

3* Internationally Excellent

2* Internationally Recognised

1* Nationally Recognised


REF 2014 Main Panel Configuration

Main Panels covering 4 broad categories of “related” disciplines

A: Health, Medicine and Biological Sciences

B: Physical Sciences and Engineering

C: Economic and Social Sciences

D: Arts and Humanities

These Main Panels will take an overview of reports from

the work of subpanels reviewing specific Units of

Assessment (UoA)


REF 2014 Sub Panel Configuration

REF2014 will have fewer, larger sub panel UoAs.

There will be 36 Panels in REF2014 (c.f. 68 for RAE2008)

GCU made 14 submissions in 13 separate Units of Assessment

in RAE2008.

As a result of changes to Panel structure, the subject

submissions made by GCU in RAE2008 fall into 12 new

REF2014 Units of Assessment



Larger units of assessment, broadly of similar size (1000 FTE)

Fewer but larger submissions likely in each UoA (c.f. RAE2008)

Bulk of quality scores will be based on assessment of research

outputs (ca 60 % on publications)

Significant emphasis on research environment (ca 20 %)

Need to demonstrate wider research impact at research

grouping level (ca 20 %) based on report of pilot exercises*

Funding reward likely for research excellence (i.e. 4* and

3* International quality levels) only



Main conclusion:

Expert review of case studies is an appropriate means of assessing impact

It is essential that impact should be defined broadly to include social, economic, cultural, environmental, health and quality of life benefits.

Impact purely within academia should not be included in this part of the REF



  • Impacts from research typically develop over extended periods of time and institutions should be able to submit impacts at any stage of development, so long as some change or benefit beyond academia has taken place:
    • The REF should only assess the impact that has taken place during the assessment period and not attempt to anticipate future or potential impact.
    • In selecting case studies, institutions should focus on those impacts that are more fully developed or significant ‘interim’ impacts.
    • Institutions should be permitted to submit impacts that evolve over long time-frames to successive REF exercises, with each REF assessing the specific impacts that have taken place during the assessment period.


It is clear from the pilot study that impacts are not just economic or STEM subject related.

The Expert Panels reported that arts and humanities subjectscan be assessed for impact using appropriate discipline specific indicators.

REF panels will develop more detailed guidance on what constitutes impact in their disciplines.

This should include guidance about the types of impacts and indicators anticipated from research in their disciplines, expanding on the initial list provided by the funding bodies, and guidance on what constitutes ‘interim’ impact.

The guidance should be flexible enough to allow for a wide variety of impacts and indicators, including impacts that panels may not




  • Case studies should contain all the relevant information and evidence required by panels to come to a judgement
  • Case studies should include impact indicators within the narrative that are meaningful, contextualised and relevant in demonstrating the particular case.
  • Case studies should be based on high quality research (2* level minimum). Institutions must justify the quality of the underpinning research in their submissions (Impact must be traceable directly to excellence in research)
  • Timescale for impact from original research is up to ca 15 years but may vary with discipline.
  • There should be one case study per 10 members of staff but issues related to small submissions may require more consideration
  • Criteria for assessing impact – ‘reach’ and ‘significance’ – are appropriate and should be broadly applicable across all panels
  • Evidence will be assessed as presented to Panels but will be subject to
  • audit by REF and verified with key users of the research.


Feedback from Pilot Institutions

Conveying meaning of REF non-academic impact to academic groups was found to be non-trivial

There was an unforeseen need for a major communication exercise, extensive discussion and bilateral exchange in developing impact case studies .

There was a substantial amount of work and iteration involved. for many staff across all of the institutions.

The development of illustrative case studies helped with the process

The need to obtain evidence relating impact to high quality research retrospectively is problematic and will require the development of appropriate information systems not currently in place.

However on the whole, case studies were endorsed by pilot institutions

as a good method of capturing research impact



Scheduling of mock REF exercises with University Research Committee

Equality and diversity code of practice in relation to REF selection process

Alignment of research group themes with REF requirements and development

of possible UoA strategies (Panel guidance , 2011)

Modelling of REF UoA submission scenarios via RIMS database

Targeting of high quality new publications to achieve maximum academic

impact to support developing narrative in time remaining

Strategic focus in seeking high quality peer reviewed research grants

specifically to support the developing narrative

Development of case studies of research impact linked to previous

outputs /activity prior to RAE2008

Update of research website with developing research narrative