Go back

REF reform team turning to Europe for inspiration


Arma 2022: Conference hears how UK exercise could align closely to European research assessment reforms

The team tasked with drawing up the replacement for the current Research Excellence Framework is looking to stick “as closely as possible” to the principles outlined in the European Commission’s own assessment reforms.

Catriona Firth, associate director for research environment at Research England, told delegates at the Association of Research Managers and Administrators’ 2022 conference that the Commission’s research assessment reforms represented an “incredibly interesting and really important initiative”.

Ten commitments to making research assessment fairer and more inclusive underpin the Coalition for Advancing Research Assessment’s agreement on reforms, which was published in the summer.

Firth said that the Future Research Assessment Programme team, which has been tasked with shaping the next research assessment exercise in the UK, was looking to align with the European agreement.

“We are very keen to align as closely as possible [with the CoARA principles],” she said on 16 November.

Firth said that the existing REF already meets commitments on the importance of peer review and the responsible use of metrics, but she added that “the framing of recognising diversity [of contributions to research] fits neatly with some of the interests of Frap”.

An outline of what the next assessment exercise could look like was due to be published in autumn this year, although Firth said this had been pushed back to spring 2023.

Elsewhere during the webinar, Firth said the team was “looking at whether we can use AI or machine learning in any future exercise”, but she said the findings from their technology-assisted research assessment project were “fairly conservative in terms of what we can do”.

“It’s not going to be our robot overlords assessing REF,” she said. “But it does throw up some possibilities elsewhere in the process.”

Firth added that, as well as offering accountability for public funding, the UK’s research assessment exercise “should offer insights into the health of the higher education sector” and show “where our strengths lie in disciplinary areas or within institutions”.

“This is something we’re really keen to explore for the next one, not just thinking about the excellence in terms of outputs and impacts, but also what can we learn from the environment statements; for example, on where there are areas of good practice as well,” she said.