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Frequently Asked Questions – University of Reading

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Frequently Asked Questions

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What is the REF?

The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is the new system for assessing the quality and impact of research in UK higher education institutions (HEIs). It replaces the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE), which was last conducted in 2008. The REF has been undertaken by the four UK higher education funding bodies* and managed by the REF team based at HEFCE.

The four UK higher education funding bodies allocate about £2 billion per year of research funding to UK universities, based on the quality and volume of each university's research. They aim to support a dynamic and internationally competitive UK research sector that makes a major contribution to economic prosperity, national wellbeing and the expansion and dissemination of knowledge.

Through a process of expert review, the REF produces assessment outcomes for each submission (disciplinary area) made by institutions. This enables the funding bodies to distribute funds selectively on the basis of quality. As well as informing funding allocations, the REF provides accountability for public investment in research, demonstrates its benefits, and provides important reputational yardsticks and benchmarking information about the research performance of UK universities.

HEIs made submissions at the end of 2013 with panels reviewing the submissions during 2014. The outcomes were published in December 2014.


* The four UK funding bodies are: the Higher Education Funding Council for England, Scottish Funding Council, Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, and Department for Education, Northern Ireland.


How does the REF work?

The REF is a process of expert review. HEIs were invited to make submissions into 36 units of assessment (UOA) by 30 November 2013. Submissions have been assessed by an expert sub-panel for each UOA, working under the guidance of four main panels. Sub-panels have applied a set of generic assessment criteria and level definitions, to produce an overall quality profile for each submission.


What information is submitted as part of REF?

Each submission in each UOA contains information on the following:

  • Staff: Information on staff in post and holding an eligible contract on 31 October 2013 for whom research outputs were submitted;
  • Outputs: Up to four publications and other forms of assessable output produced during the publication period (1 January 2008 to 31 December 2013) for each selected member of staff;
  • Impact: A description of the submitted unit's approach during the assessment period (1 January 2008 to 31 July 2013) to enabling impact from its research, and case studies describing specific examples of impacts achieved during the assessment period;
  • Environment: data about research doctoral degrees awarded and research income (for the period 1 August 2008 to 31 July 2013), and a description of the institution's research environment (relating to the period 1 January 2008 to 31 July 2013).


How does it differ from RAE?

The REF is different from the RAE in several ways, most notably: the number of UOAs has been reduced from 67 to 36; the inclusion of research impact as an assessable element; the Environment section is assessed under different criteria, and includes data relating to all staff activity, not just those for whom outputs were submitted; the weightings (Outputs 65%, Impact 20%, Environment 15%) for the contributing elements have been adjusted; measures to promote equality and diversity have been strengthened and are applied consistently across all UOAs.

This means that the results from REF 2014 are not directly comparable to those from RAE 2008, and care must be taken when considering the results alongside each other.


Is all the University's research and impact activity submitted to REF?

Only a sample of the University's research and impact activity is submitted to REF. Up to four outputs are returned for each selected member of eligible staff, and between 2 and 8 impact case studies were submitted (in proportion to the number of staff returned) in each UOA.

Not all staff eligible to be submitted with outputs were returned to REF. Such staff (as well as some staff who were not eligible on the basis of their contractual responsibilities) may well have contributed to the University's submission in other ways, for example through impact case studies, research income and supervising doctoral student completions.


What is meant by Units of Assessment?

Units of Assessment are disciplinary areas to which HEIs submit their research. The UOA may comprise staff working within a single department or school, but may also comprise staff working across several departments and schools.

In some UOAs, where the disciplinary areas submitted to a single UOA at an institution were sufficiently distinct in terms of research organisation and structure, HEIs were permitted to make multiple submissions. The University of Reading made multiple submissions in UOA 17 for Geography and Archaeology, and in UOA 34 for Typography and Art.


What is a quality profile?

The primary outcome of the assessment will be an overall quality profile awarded to each submission, showing the proportion of the submission which meets each of the starred levels. In forming the overall quality profile, sub-panels will develop a sub-profile for each of the three elements of the assessment - outputs, impact and environment, weighted by 65%, 20% and 15% respectively.


What do the different ratings awarded for the quality profiles mean?

4* is defined as: quality that is world-leading in terms of originality, significance and rigour.

3* is defined as: quality that is internationally excellent in terms of originality, significance and rigour but which falls short of the highest standards of excellence.

2* is defined as: quality that is recognised internationally in terms of originality, significance and rigour.

1* is defined as: quality that is recognised nationally in terms of originality, significance and rigour.

Unclassified research is that where the quality falls below the standard of nationally recognised work, or the work does not meet the published definition of research for the purposes of this assessment.


What does the category 'Research Outputs' measure?

Research outputs for the REF are defined as a product of research first brought into the public domain during the publication period. Traditionally, this is printed work and online publications, but also covers other forms of output such as artefacts, products and other non-text outputs of research.

The criteria for assessing the quality of outputs are 'originality, significance and rigour', and the star ratings awarded reflect these criteria. This element carries a weighting of 65% of the overall outcome awarded to each submission.

The University submitted over 2300 outputs to the REF.


What does Research Impact measure?

The sub-panels assess the 'reach and significance' of impacts on the economy, society and/or culture that were underpinned by excellent research conducted in the submitted unit, as well as the submitted unit's approach to enabling impact from its research. This element carries a weighting of 20%.


What does Research Environment measure?

The sub-panels assess the research environment in terms of its 'vitality and sustainability', including its contribution to the vitality and sustainability of the wider discipline or research base. This element carries a weighting of 15%.

The Environment element includes data on external funded research income and income in kind, and doctoral student awards over the period 2008/09 to 2012/13. The University returned in the region of £180m in research income and over 1000 doctoral student awards.


How many Units of Assessment has the University of Reading submitted into?

The University of Reading has made 23 submissions in 21 of the 36 Units of Assessment for the REF 2014. This includes two multiple submissions in each of UOA 17 (under Archaeology and Geography) and UOA 34 (under Art and Typography).


How many staff have submitted evidence into the REF from the University of Reading?

The University of Reading has submitted outputs for 638 (590 FTE) academics who were in post on 31 October 2013. It has also submitted outputs for four staff not employed by the University but whose research is primarily focused within the University. 158 academics were involved in the impact element of the submission.


What information on the REF outcomes will be made publicly available?

The results of the assessment are published on the funding bodies' REF webpages. The full submissions (excluding information redacted or omitted on the basis or confidentiality or commercial sensitivity) will be published early in 2015.

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