The future of research assessment after REF 2021

The future of research assessment after REF 2021

14 February 2019

Research England is currently working in earnest with the UK’s higher education funding bodies in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and the sector to develop and deliver the next Research Excellence Framework.

But this is not the extent of Research England’s work on research assessment. The lead-in times to research assessment exercises are very long. The last assessment took place in 2014. After REF 2021, it could be another seven years before we run another research assessment exercise. On top of this, the wider research landscape is evolving rapidly – technologically, culturally and at the individual disciplinary level. This means we need to be thinking, right now, about what we might need to consider in the assessment of research beyond REF 2021.

Part of this analysis includes keeping up with changes in how research is undertaken, disseminated and applied. We must keep exploring and evaluating assessment approaches, consider the role of research assessment, what we will be assessing in the future and how assessment is carried out and/or changing in other research active nations. It is through this exploration and evaluation that we can better understand what research assessment could look like in the future.

To this end, Research England has commissioned a suite of projects to guide our understanding of the future of research assessment after REF 2021.

Research England is working with a not-for-profit research institute that helps to improve policy and decision making through research and analysis, called RAND Europe, to explore current and future changes in the research landscape and how this may affect the nature of research assessment. We have established an advisory group of eight experts with diverse expertise in the research landscape and approaches to research assessment and evaluation to steer the project, which includes a review of current literature, workshops and a survey of the academic population. The survey is set to go live in spring 2019.

Alongside this, we are also considering how other research-intensive nations assess their national research base. This includes exploring how assessment links (if at all) to funding, any changes to their system(s) over time, and the role of the research sector and other stakeholders in their approaches. Working with Technopolis Group, a provider of science, technology and innovation policy evaluation, we are delving into the methods adopted by 20 geographically and systemically diverse nations to collect this information.

This work is not part of the development or evaluation of REF 2021, but complements work we already have under way to understand the attitudes and perceptions of those that the 2021 exercise directly impacts.

Each piece of work will ask interesting and challenging questions and will provide a strong and robust foundation for considering what the post REF 2021 assessment approach will need to consider.