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Response to Lord Stern’s review Building on Success and Learning from Experience

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The British Academy welcomes the recommendations of Lord Stern’s independent review of the Research Excellence Framework (REF), which address the three main issues the Academy identified in its response to the call for evidence:

  1. The need to reduce the burden of the exercise, which has increased over time
  2. The need to ensure that the behaviours it incentivises are beneficial to research careers and the research process, and
  3. The importance of reconceptualising ‘impact’.

Professor Roger Kain, Vice-President for Research and Higher Education Policy at the British Academy, said:

“At a time of political turbulence, the review makes eminently sensible recommendations to build on the strengths of a core part of the UK’s research sector, which is consistently recognised as internationally outstanding.  Quality-Related funding (QR), distributed through the REF as part of a dual-support system, is crucial in fostering excellent research, wherever it is found, particularly for research in the humanities and social sciences.

“We are especially pleased to note the recommendation that ‘impact’ should be less narrowly interpreted, and reconceptualised to include public engagement and teaching, drawing on the body of a researcher’s work.  This will allow the wider benefit of research across the disciplinary spread to be articulated.

“Requiring all research active staff to submit to the exercise will also negate the substantial opportunity costs which universities currently incur in their selection processes, and help to eliminate the damage to some researchers’ careers that selection of staff for tactical reasons brought about. And introducing a new institutional level assessment will encourage and recognise greater collaboration.  

“It is also good to see that interdisciplinary research has been tackled head on by the review, drawing on the Academy’s recent Crossing Paths report, with a call for better recognition of interdisciplinary submissions and the specific suggestion that interdisciplinary champions are placed on sub-panels.”

The British Academy will continue to engage closely with the development of the REF through the forthcoming consultation, working with government and the rest of the research community as the wider research landscape takes shape.

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