UK Strategic Forum position statement on the Research Excellence Framework

The UK Strategic Forum welcomes: 

  • the recognition that high-quality social science research plays an essential role in improving public policy and economic wellbeing, and that all these elements are recognised as contributing to the quality of life
  • HEFCE's commitment to recognise and reward high-quality research which contributes to social, cultural and public policy, and economic wellbeing. In particular, the Forum welcomes the principle that those doing high-quality scientific work which has implications for policy or practice, or is high-quality work that is of an applied nature or is geared towards achieving non-academic impact, should be recognised. The Forum also welcomes the fact that the definition of impact will go well beyond economic value
  • the commitment to maintain the central focus of research assessment on the identification of excellence, with the greatest recognition being given to those units with excellent research activity as measured by outputs (research publications and other outputs) and research environment (the extent to which the environment supports a continuing flow of excellent research and its effective dissemination and application)
  • the decision to retain peer review as the principal form of assessment (informed, where appropriate, by citation information and other quantitative data)
  • the plan to have one overarching framework of assessment for all disciplines. It had been proposed in the 2006 consultation that there should be different methods of assessment for the 'sciences' and the 'non-sciences'. A division on these lines would have been unhelpful as many social science subjects such as Psychology straddle the sciences as well as the social sciences
  • the proposal to maintain the overall assessment at the level of the unit or department so that the assessment of impact will relate to the broad portfolio of activity across a department and not the activity of every individual researcher, as has been implied elsewhere
  • HEFCE's acknowledgement of the significant difficulties of measuring impact, such as time lags, attribution and corroboration. The Forum therefore welcomes the establishment of the impact pilot exercise to test and develop the proposals to assess impact, and the fact that the final decisions on the assessment of impact and its weighting will be taken in the light of the consultation exercise and the pilot outcomes
  • the commitment to ensure that there is greater consistency of assessment criteria and working methods across the exercise. In support of this aim, the Forum commends the HEFCE's proposals to establish a main panel for the Social Sciences, along with an REF Steering Group with oversight of the conduct of the exercise.

The Forum also identified five main areas for the HEFCE to consider further.