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At a glance: All the REF 2029 changes


A roundup of the reforms currently announced for the next Research Excellence Framework

This week, the team behind the Research Excellence Framework, the UK’s national research assessment exercise, announced that its next iteration has been delayed from 2028 to 2029 to give institutions and assessors more time to prepare.

While this grabbed the headlines, the team also confirmed various changes to the 2029 exercise following a consultation. Plans to expand the REF’s people, culture and environment section were subject to their own consultation, which concluded earlier this month, and as such no decisions about this have yet been taken.

The REF is to determine, in part, the amount of research funding that UK higher education institutions receive. It is operated by the four UK research funding bodies: Research England, the Scottish Funding Council, the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, and the Department for the Economy, Northern Ireland.

Here is what was announced this week.

Delay rationale

What was REF 2028 is now REF 2029. The REF team said the delay to the process had been implemented for three reasons:

  • To give more time to prepare for using Higher Education Statistics Agency data to determine REF volume measures
  • To complete work designed to fully break the link between individual staff and institutional submissions
  • To allow institutions to rework their Codes of Practice to ensure REF output submissions are representative of staff with research responsibilities.

“The revised timeline for the next REF cycle will allow further development and testing of policy approaches, minimising unintended consequences and ensuring higher education institutions are able to prepare for any implementation processes required to support these changes,” the REF team said.

Confirmed changes

  • The minimum number of impact case studies an institution can submit per disciplinary submission will be reduced to one
  • The 2* minimum quality threshold for the research that underpins impact case studies has been removed
  • Research sole-authored by postgraduate research students (including PhD theses) will not be eligible for REF 2029
  • Research sole-authored by individuals employed on contracts with no research-related expectations also cannot be submitted
  • Research-active staff will not be required to submit a minimum or maximum number of outputs to REF 2029
  • The overall Unit of Assessment structure will remain unchanged from REF 2021

Ongoing work

  • For REF 2029, institutions may submit any output with a “demonstrable and substantive link” to the submitting institution, but the REF team said “further work is needed to develop our guidance” on this
  • The REF team reported “mixed views” on the proposed sliding scale for weighting of impact case studies and will undertake further work on this
  • Further work is also required to ensure that breaking the link between individual staff members and unit submissions does not have “unintended consequences”

People and culture

While the changes did not commit to any reforms of the people, culture and environment section, the document stated that the REF team is “considering options for testing and piloting the expanded element”.

There was also confirmation of a review of the proposed weighting of the culture section, which was initially expected to be worth 25 per cent.

Further information on this strand is expected in January, with more detail on the overall REF cycle to be published “in spring”.