HEFCE proposals for new Research Excellence Framework (REF)

Added by Stephane Goldstein on 26 November 2007 17:46

The Research Assessment Exercise is dead (well, not quite yet, but it’s on its way out…), long live the Research Excellence Framework. The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) has published its long- awaited proposals on how it envisages to run a new framework for the assessment and funding of research from 2010.; The proposals take the form of a consultation document, and at the outset I urge any interested parties to take a look at this and consider responding by the deadline of 14 February 2008.

The  document does not contain any surprises, since it confirms what has been know for a while: that assessment in the REF would be driven by quantitative indicators, or metrics, for most science and te¬≠chnology subjects, and by a ‘light touch’ peer review process for the arts, humanities, socials sciences, statistics and mathematics.  Most of the thinking so far has focused on the quantitative indicators, which will be articulated largely around bibliometric analyses, to assess quality.  Other quantitative measures (e.g. research income and research student numbers) are being considered to be factored into funding decisions.  Work regarding the ‘light touch’ peer review is less advanced, and there will be further consultation on that aspect of the REF in 2009.

Not surprisingly, much attention is being drawn to the nature of the proposed bibliometric indicators.  It is suggested that these will be based on citation analyses drawn mostly from the Thomson Scientific Web of Science (WoS).  HEFCE has already recognised that there may be limitations to this approach, and potential concerns (as well as possible solutions) are outlined in the consultation paper; in particular, there is a question about how user value, as opposed to quality, might be measured - this is particularly important for research of the more applied variety.

However, on the issue of the place and evaluation of data as a research output, the document is silent.  This is something worth reflecting on, and the sort of issues raised in the RIN’s forthcoming report on data publication should provide pointers on perceptions about the quality of research data.

A final word about the non-English bits of the UK: the HEFCE consultation relates to England and Northern Ireland, but it is anticipated that the Scottish and Welsh funding councils, which are carrying out parallel consultations (see Scotland and Wales), will in due course develop proposals that will lead to the creation of a UK-wide assessment framework.­


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