Universities and Science Minister Jo Johnson has brought into sharp focus a UK-wide review of university research funding designed to cut red tape such that academic institutions can focus more on delivering the world-leading knowledge gathering for which the UK is rightly renowned.
Following the decision to protect the £4.7 billion annual science and research budget in real terms during this Parliament, the Research Excellence Framework review will help ensure the Government derives the maximum return possible from its substantial investment.
The review will be chaired by the president of the British Academy and former World Bank chief economist Lord Nicholas Stern. He will be assisted by a high-level Steering Group of academic experts including the vice-chancellor of Aston University, Professor Julia King, and the past president of the Academy of Medical Sciences, Professor Sir John Tooke.
Research drives productivity
“Excellent research drives productivity and is vital for delivering a better quality of life for everyone,” asserted Jo Johnson. “The Conservative Government has committed to protect academic research in real terms to the end of the decade, and now we need to make sure we’re deriving the maximum benefits from this investment.”
Johnson continued: “I’m delighted that Lord Stern has agreed to lead this review of the Research Excellence Framework, and I look forward to working with the panel to carry out this work. As a renowned academic with experience of operating at the highest levels of Government, Lord Stern and the members of the Steering Group will bring valuable expertise to the review process.”
Lord Stern responded: “I look forward to chairing this review of the Research Excellence Framework and to working with such a distinguished panel. Research assessment is a vital element in the promotion of excellence. The excellence of our research is one of the UK’s greatest assets, and one which we must continue to nurture. It’s absolutely essential that research assessment remains fit for purpose, is wholly efficient and carries the confidence of the UK’s academic community.”
He added: “Research assessment should not unwittingly introduce incentives for perverse behaviour, nor should it be overly burdensome. Excellence, properly defined, must remain the central basis for allocating support and funding for research. We will explore ways in which a simpler, lighter-touch, system for the Research Excellence Framework might be developed going forward.”
The Research Excellence Framework is the system which assesses the quality of research carried out in UK higher education institutions and allocates public research funding according to their performance.
REF2014 was used in allocating approximately £1.6 billion for research to English universities in 2015-2016.
As announced in the recent Spending Review, the Government is taking forward a review of the Research Excellence Framework to ensure future university research funding is allocated more efficiently, offers greater rewards for excellent studies and reduces the administrative burden placed upon institutions.
Position of strength
International benchmarking has shown that past research assessment exercises have improved the quality of UK research. This new and detailed review will build on that existing position of strength by dint of rigorous assessment and also focus on excellence by:
*investigating different approaches to the evaluation of UK higher education research performance to strengthen the focus on research excellence and impact while reducing administrative burdens across the sector in general
*drawing on evidence from the evaluation of the last Research Excellence Framework in 2014 and considering other models of research performance assessment
*providing options for future iterations of the Research Excellence Framework with a focus on a simpler, lighter-touch method of research assessment that uses data and metrics more effectively while retaining the overall benefits to be derived from peer review