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Could revamped REF rules help researcher career development?

Arguably, the most significant changes to the Research Excellence Framework rules arising from Nicholas Stern’s 2016 review were the end of the ‘four outputs per researcher’ rule and the end of the option to choose who is returned. Instead, everyone with “significant responsibility for research” must be returned, with between one and five publications per researcher. The number of publications to be returned is now 2.5 x n, where n equals the full-time equivalent number of researchers in the relevant unit of assessment.

In this REF cycle, the rules have been literally made up as we go along and most institutions have treated the business of selecting which publications to return as an optimisation problem—everyone’s best publication and then the best of the rest to maximise the number of likely four-star and three-star papers. Next time, most universities’ publication strategies are likely to be more proactive and planned.

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